The National Autism Association (NAA) today is asking parents and advocates for children to contact Florida governor Charlie Crist, urging that he not sign legislation that has been stripped of its original intent to protect children from harmful restraint and seclusion practices in Florida schools.
This alarming trend is on the rise nationwide.
A May, 2009 report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) brought to light incidents of abusive classroom treatments of our nation's schoolchildren that have resulted in serious injury and death. Often the children subjected to these practices have diagnoses of autism or related disorders. The GAO report revealed deaths from "mechanical compression to the chest," or "smothering." One schoolchild died from restraint following a seizure, another died from hanging himself in a seclusion room. Other cases included a four-year-old girl who was tied to a chair and abused, five children who were duct-taped to their desks, and a ten-year-old boy who was put in a seclusion room "75 times over a 6-month period for hours at a time for offenses such as whistling, slouching and hand-waving."
The original Florida bill, SB 2118: Use of Seclusion and Restraint on Students with Disabilities, was written with significant parental input that no longer existed in the version passed by the Florida state Senate last Thursday. According to Port St. Lucie parent Anna Moore, whose son Isaiah was brutally restrained while at school in 2007, "This version of the bill is a disgrace. I don't see the protections from the dangerous and even deadly restraint and seclusion practices that are being used on our most vulnerable children. If anything, I am worried it will do more harm than good for children subjected to these inhumane treatments."
Among the concerns of Mrs. Moore and other parents are that the bill:
Allows schools to wait 3 school days before mailing the incident report to parents. If a child was restrained on Friday, it is likely a parent would not receive an incident report until the following Friday or Monday thereafter.
Does not afford parents any rights if they disagree with a practice used or believe a child was abused.
Allows school districts to self-monitor restraint/seclusion events with no independent oversight. Data does not go to federal Department of Education and does not include information about prior complaints from parents regarding district's failure to provide proper supports/services according to IDEA.
Does not require public reporting of data.
Allows school districts to decide their own policies on data collection, incident reporting, and monitoring with no independent oversight.
Does not adequately define or address the use of seclusion/solitary confinement which has resulted in severe abuse in numerous cases.
Fails to provide prohibition against the use of aversive interventions that compromise health and safety.
Fails to require that Applied Behavior Analysis or other Positive Behavior Interventions that are evidence-based be used to prevent behaviors or training for such interventions.
Fails to designate penalties for violations.
In addition to the investigation of abusive incidents, the GAO report revealed that there are no federal laws regulating restraint and seclusion in schools, no laws in 19 states, and "widely divergent" laws in remaining states. In response to these troubling revelations, the US House of Representatives passed a federal bill in March of this year to address classroom abuses. The companion bill in the Senate, Preventing Harmful Restraint and Seclusion in Schools Act (S.B. 2860), is now being considered in the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee.
NAA is asking that parents and advocates also contact HELP committee members requesting their support of the federal bill. "This is a human rights issue that demands immediate attention on a federal level," said NAA President Wendy Fournier. "Waiting for each state to get appropriate guidelines into place leaves our nation's most vulnerable children unprotected from this type of horrific abuse in the classroom."
To ask Florida Governor Charlie Crist not to sign SB 2118, visit NAA's action center at naa.kintera.org/actioncenter
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