WASHINGTON (AP) - Parents urged Congress on Thursday to limit the ability of state school systems to have special education students physically restrained while in class.
The Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions convened a hearing Thursday that was meant to raise awareness of how much physical force is used when disciplining students. The committee is considering a bill that calls for restraining or secluding students only if they might physically injure other students.
Deborah Jackson of Easton, Pa., told lawmakers that her 9-year-old son, Elijah, was repeatedly restrained or locked down in "seclusion" rooms, and sometimes came home with bruises. She said her son suffers from behavioral disorders that make him aggressive and that he needs to be handled more carefully.
"I was afraid for him to go to school. Elijah will come home distraught and upset and always told me, `They keep holding me down,'" Jackson said. "I felt like I was failing as a parent. Helpless."
A representative of the Easton Area School District declined to comment.
The Education Department published in March a study that estimated 38,792 cases of seclusion or restraint during the 2009-2010 school year. Sixty-nine percent of those cases involved students with disabilities, as defined by the Individuals with Disabilities Act. Black and Hispanic students with disabilities were more likely to be subject to restraint, the study found.
Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, who introduced the Keeping All Students Safe Act last December, said the bill might not gain enough congressional support this year. He said he plans to re-introduce it.
"I'm hopeful that as more people know that restraint and seclusion don't lead to positive outcomes, we will get the support we need," Harkin said. "We have enough evidence from a lot of different states that show that not only can this be done, but it should be done because you have better, positive outcomes and it actually costs less money."
Daniel Crimmins, director of the Center for Leadership in Disability at Georgia State University, praised a new Georgia law that bans seclusion and limits the use of restraint.
Crimmins said the law has allowed teachers "serving with the most significant behavioral challenges" to learn "alternative ways to support these students" without the use of physical force.
Jackson said she enrolled her son at the Centennial School in Bethlehem, Pa. The school does not use seclusion or restraint, and Jackson said her son has learned how to train his mind "to see things differently than he does naturally."
In March, Elijah transitioned to a public school in the Easton Area School District.
"I believe that my son Elijah is nothing short of a miracle," Jackson said. "He's not a statistic anymore. He's above and beyond a statistic."
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