Ensuring the Safety of Our Nation’s Students
A report from the U.S. Department of Education showed 66,000 cases of seclusion and restraint of students during the 2009-10 school year. This is a horrifying statistic, made even more horrifying by the conjecture of many experts that because only 18 states require that parents be notified when a child is restrained or secluded, the number of cases each year might actually be significantly higher.
A May 2009 report by the Government Accountability Office defined seclusion as the “involuntary confinement of an individual alone in a room or area from which the individual is physically prevented from leaving” and defined restraint as “any manual method, physical or mechanical device, material, or equipment that immobilizes or reduces the ability of an individual to move his or her arms, legs, body, or head freely.” The National Disability Rights Network released a report in 2012 detailing that children with disabilities are disproportionately secluded and restrained in classrooms.
Unlike the use of seclusion and restraints in juvenile justice facilities and mental health facilities, there are no federal laws or regulations which address the limitations on the use of restraint and seclusion practices in America’s schools. A February 2014 report released by the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee found that “There is no evidence that physically restraining or putting children in unsupervised seclusion in the K-12 school system provides any educational or therapeutic benefit to a child.”
On February 12, 2014, the Chairman of the Senate HELP Committee, Senator Harkin (D-IA), introduced the Keeping All Students Safe Act. The bill prohibits almost all uses of restraint procedures in schools and aims to help schools implement positive behavioral interventions in U.S. schools throughout the country. When introducing the Keeping All Students Safe Act, Senator Harkin said that his goal is to both stop the use of seclusion and severely limit the use of restraint, as well as provide educators with resources to be able to help their students effectively. Congressman George Miller, a senior Democrat on the Education and Workforce Committee, is the author of a similar measure in the House.
In Deuteronomy 6:4-9, we read the words of V’Ahavta. We are commanded: “And you shall teach them [the words that I command you today] diligently to your children.” Our tradition teaches us that the education of our children is an important undertaking. We cannot safely educate students in the United States while the use of seclusion and restraints is allowed to continue. Our Jewish values teach us that we are all made b’tselem Elohim, in the image of God, and that no child, with or without a disability, should be separated from his or her community or dangerously restrained in a classroom.
Urge your Senators and Representative to support the Keeping All Students Safe Act because it reflects our values as Americans and as Reform Jews. The Capitol Switchboard can be reached at 202.224.3121.