Florida lawmakers have debated for years whether to limit or end the use of restraint and seclusion on students with special needs who grow violent.
The House of Representatives adopted such legislation in 2019, but couldn’t get a companion through the Senate.
House members are trying again this year. Their latest measure (HB 1231) won unanimous support Tuesday in the PreK-12 Innovation subcommittee, where sponsor Rep. Bobby DuBose, D-Fort Lauderdale, expressed his prayer that 2020 will be the year this idea becomes law.
DuBose noted that in recent times, restraint has been used more than 80,000 times on students, and seclusion more than 20,000 times.
“This is a traumatic experience for both the students and the parents,” he told the subcommittee, noting that serious injuries can occur.
His bill, which has an identical companion in the Senate (SB 1644), would more clearly define the terms “restraint” and “seclusion,” and set forth more clear terms for when they may be used.
School districts would have to adopt policies and procedures prioritizing positive behavior interventions first, and provide training to all employees who might need to use the methods.
The bill also includes provisions allowing parents to request video monitoring of self-contained classrooms where children might face the use of restraint and seclusion, in order to provide added information protecting students who might not be able to explain what has happened to them.
“Every day when parents send their children to school, they expect their children to be safe,” DuBose explained. “Children with disabilities are among the most vulnerable in our society.”
The bill, he suggested, will ensure greater safety.
Committee members agreed, saying they only wished the bill could be expanded to include added protections for other children.
“It is much needed and it is timely,” said Rep. Mike Hill, R-Pensacola.
The question is whether such a measure can make it through the Senate. In the past, similar proposals have stalled as teachers of children with disabilities talk about their need to have tools available to handle students who have become out of control.
They have noted, as but one example, times when teachers must hold back a student to prevent harm, such as when a child is about to run into a busy street.
Amid their concerns, the proposals have not been adopted. But the move has been afoot since the U.S. Department of Education began discouraging the use of restraint and seclusion a decade ago, after Congress held hearings detailing their abuse.
In 2012, education Secretary Arne Duncan issued guidance to school districts, including as a key principle that “Every effort should be made to prevent the need for the use of restraint and for the use of seclusion.”
Florida leaders have regularly talked about reducing restraint and seclusion since then.
Dixie Samson of Arc of Florida said she hoped this year the Senate will join the House.
“It speaks volumes to the importance of our children ... and to their safety and welfare,” she said.