Friday, May 22, 2009

Restraints and Their Abuse: Federal or State Question?

The recent posts on the widespread misuse of restraints across the country has caused a spirited debate. Many of the readers of this blog are outraged at the murder and torture of public school students, most of them with disabilities.
The Chairman of the congressional Education Committee is also outraged. He said that the abusive examples of restraints heard by the committee constituted punishment "... that is way out of bounds of what I believe are the social norms of this society..."

The U. S. House Education Committee is considering changes to federal laws to prevent future abuses. Here is a
news report.

Arne Duncan, the Secretary of Education, has taken a different approach. He has called on the state departments of education to develop plans before school begins in fall to regulate the abuse of restraints. Here is another
news account. This brings up the old debate concerning which education issues are the province of the states and which should be regulated by the federal government. Each side has its adherents. What do the readers of this blog think?

If the feds do get involved, there could be a number of areas affected. One is reporting of incidents across state boundaries. One example at the hearing involved a teacher who restrained a student in Texas resulting in his death. After her Texas certificate was revoked, she reportedly received a teaching job in Virginia.

A second area would relate to training. Most teachers tell me that restraints and seclusion are necessary tools, but that they constitute a last resort and that any person who uses them must be properly trained in the techniques. I suspect that training will be a key component of future regulation in this area.

Another likely development is the further encouragement and development of positive behavior supports and interventions. As I understand them, these methods seek to affect bad behaviors by addressing the causes of the behavior and by positively reinforcing good behavior. The congressional Committee hearing this week included testimony about a successful PBS program in place in Illinois. IDEA mentions behavior as a factor in developing IEPs, but only gets into PBS and behavior intervention plans if discipline of a student with a disability is invoked. This might be an area where the federal special education law will be changed.

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