Monday, May 25, 2009

GAO Report Finds Hundreds of Allegations of Abusive and Deadly Uses of Seclusion and Restraint in Schools

Federal action is needed, says Chairman Miller

May 19, 2009

WASHINGTON, D.C. – A new government report released today found hundreds of allegations that schoolchildren have been abused, and some even died, as a result of inappropriate uses of seclusion and restraint in classrooms. These abusive practices were used disproportionately on children with disabilities.

The U.S. Government Accountability Office, which conducted the first government investigation specifically into schools’ use of these practices at the request of U.S. Rep. George Miller (D-CA), the chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee, testified about its findings at a committee hearing today. Their report examined ten of these cases in detail; in four of them, these abuses were fatal. Two parents of victims in these cases also testified, including a mother whose foster son died as a result.

“GAO’s report shows that in too many cases, a child’s life wound up being threatened even though that child was not a threat to others,” said Miller. “This behavior, in some instances, looks like torture. The current situation is unacceptable and cannot continue.”

Seclusion, as the term is used in this context, means the act of involuntarily confining a student in an area by himself. Restraint is used to restrict an individual’s freedom of movement. As GAO explained today, restraint can become fatal when it blocks air to the lungs. In some of the cases examined, ropes, duct tape, chairs with straps and bungee cords were used to retrain or isolate young children.

Unlike in hospitals, other health care facilities and most non-medical community-based facilities that receive federal funding, there are currently no federal laws that restrict the use of seclusion and restraint in public or private schools. State regulation and oversight varies greatly. Nineteen states have no laws governing the appropriate use of seclusion and restraint in schools.

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