Elizabeth Regan
State Sen. Dante Bartolomeo, D-Meriden (Elizabeth Regan)

State senators on Wednesday showed overwhelming support for a bill to ban physical restraint and seclusion of public school students except in emergencies.

The measure goes to the House of Representatives next.

State Sen. Dante Bartolomeo, D-Meriden, introduced the measure by citing state Department of Education statistics that revealed more than 30,000 incidents of restraint and seclusion among special education students during the 2012-13 school year. She said 6,050 incidents lasted more than 20 minutes while 1,000 were an hour long.

The measure prohibits school employees from restraining students or putting them in isolation unless there is the threat of injury to the student or others. In order to prevent or diffuse a situation before it becomes an emergency, the bill requires a training initiative for professional and paraprofessional staff members as well as administrators to be rolled out over three years.

The Office of Fiscal Analysis estimated a cost of less than $5,000 to each local and regional school district for training expenses.

The bill would extend existing special education data reporting requirements to regular education students through a pilot program. The measure also limits the allowable duration of seclusion, if necessary, and tightens parental notification requirements.

Current practice in the public schools allows for individualized special education plans that permit seclusion when less restrictive positive-behavior interventions aren’t successful, according to a report by the state Department of Education.

Data from 2013-14 showed that 77 percent of incidents involving restraint or seclusion among special education students were a response to emergency situations. The other 23 percent were permitted through the student’s individual education plan.

Elizabeth Regan
Child Advocate Sarah Eagan (Elizabeth Regan)

Child Advocate Sarah Eagan joined a group of lawmakers inside the office of Senate President Martin Looney, D-New Haven, Wednesday morning for a news conference to tout the bipartisan effort. She shared the story of a young private school student whose situation exemplifies the need for reform.

“A child was secluded in a padded cell because he kept saying he won a board game, when he didn’t,” she said.

Seclusion means putting a student in a space he or she can’t leave. In the event that seclusion is necessary to prevent imminent injury, the bill would require constant monitoring by a school employee and a clear line of sight outside the secluded area for the student.

Eagan said restraint and seclusion methods are most likely to be used on developmentally disabled students at the elementary school level.

But it’s also prevalent among the youngest set of students.

Eagan recounted a telephone call from a father whose son had come home with a note in his backpack informing the family he’d been restrained and secluded in school. She said the caller had a lot of questions about whether that could happen to his child.

The boy was four years old, she said.

Eagan said there were more than 399 incidents of restraint and seclusion of pre-school students in the 2012-13 school year.

“And ultimately, what we know from all the expertise around the country is that the use of restraint and seclusion worsens the behaviors it’s attempting to address and causes trauma and injury for children and staff,” Eagan said.

The bill applies to public schools serving students in kindergarten through grade 12.

Eagan said the bill, with its emphasis on training and crisis intervention, is necessary to improve the public school system.

“This type of bipartisan leadership and legislation gives me tremendous optimism that when the next parent calls, I can tell them that the rights are changing and that there are answers,” Eagan said.