New federal bill, reporting requirements would bring transparency to restraint, seclusion of school children

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WASHINGTON D.C. — Between a new bill introduced in the U.S. Senate and a U.S. Department of Education request of data from all Maine schools, the restraint and seclusion of students in schools may soon become more transparent.

U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, chairman of the Health Education Labor and Pension Committee, introduced the “Keeping All Students Safe Act” on Dec. 16, 2011. The bill will create minimum standards to protect public and private school students nationwide from “dangerous restraint and seclusion.”

An investigation by The Forecaster found that students all around Maine have been restrained in school, and that school staff sometimes used restraints considered “dangerous” under the state’s guidelines. Documents provided by the parents of three Scarborough elementary school boys showed that school staff restrained the boys nearly 100 times in three years. All three students now attend different schools.

A different version of the “Keeping All Students Safe Act” passed in the U.S. House of Representatives last year, but was unable to clear the Senate.

Also in December, the U.S. Department of Education announced its Office of Civil Rights will be requiring all public and state-operated schools and juvenile detention facilities to report a variety of data next year, including the number of restraints and seclusions performed on students.

That data will then be made available to the public. Currently, Maine schools do not have to report how many students are restrained or put in locked or unlocked seclusion rooms. The Maine Department of Education has indicated in the past it is unaware how many students are restrained in Maine schools.

The state Department of Education, however, is putting the final touches on updates to its rules on restraint and seclusion of school children, which will include school reporting requirements. The updated rules are expected to soon go to a legislative committee.

Emily Parkhurst can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or Follow her on Twitter: @emilyparkhurst.