Keeping Students Safe in Our Nation's Schools

MAR. 06, 2014

Children have been seriously injured, traumatized, and some have even died from the use of restraint and seclusion in our nation’s schools. This is well documented in media stories and reports issued over several years.

These stories reveal that the use of restraint in schools has led to children being sat on, stuffed in duffel bags, and held down sometimes unable to breathe. Seclusion in schools has included children being locked in small rooms, closets, and other restricted spaces.  In some reported cases, students and staff describe hearing children screaming in seclusion rooms and parents report children returning home traumatized.

How Common Are These Practices?

Data recently reported by the U.S. Department of Education shows that at least 66,000 incidents of restraint and seclusion occurred in a single school year. This figure is likely quite low since three of the largest city school districts—New York City, Los Angeles and Miami—did not report data. Perhaps most troubling is that 70 percent of the reported restraint and seclusion cases involved children with disabilities, including those living with mental illness.

It is hard to believe that there are no federal laws regulating the use of restraint and seclusion, especially when you factor in the reports chronicling injuries and deaths. What’s more, there is no evidence that restraining a child or putting children in unsupervised locked spaces provides any educational or therapeutic benefit to a child. On the contrary, it often traumatizes them.

Much-Needed Federal Legislation

NAMI applauds Senator Tom Harkin for introducing federal legislation that limits the use of restraints to emergency circumstances and eliminates the use of seclusion in schools. This legislation, the Keeping All Students Safe Act (Senate bill 2036) strikes the right balance by helping schools to promote more positive learning environments, while preventing behaviors that put children and school personnel at risk of harm. This legislation also promises to improve academic outcomes for all students, including those living with mental illness.

Students with mental illness have tremendous academic potential, especially when schools understand their needs. This led to NAMI creating Parents and Teachers as Allies an in-service education program to help school staff better understand emerging mental illness. The more that schools understand the needs of these students, the more positive the academic experience for students and staff.

Students with mental illness deserve the opportunity to reach their full academic potential, the foundation for an independent and productive adult life.

Learn more about the Keeping All Students Safe Act and the reports and data cited in this blog by checking out these links:

Please contact your Congressional members today and urge them to co-sponsor this critically important federal legislation.

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