Missouri lawmakers push for restrictions on seclusion and restraint policies in schools
Missouri state lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are taking up controversial practices in schools, pre-filing bills restricting seclusion and restraint.
Two representatives in the Missouri House, Dottie Bailey (R-Eureka) and Ian Mackey (D-St. Louis) filed identical bills that would limit the way schools can use seclusion and restraint for students.
In a news release, Mackey said he's heard stories of students who were locked in seclusion rooms for hours, without their parents knowing. In the same release, Bailey said, without a definition and a statewide policy on the practices, "anything goes."
In Bailey's bill, seclusion is defined as "the involuntary confinement of a student alone in a room or area from which the student is physically prevented from leaving."
In her bill, restraint is defined as "the use of physical force, with or without the use of any physical device or material, to restrict the free movement of all or a portion of a student's body."
The bills prohibit the use of seclusion or restraint "for any purpose other than to promote the health and safety of students, teachers, and staff members."
They also require parents be notified, and all parties involved write a report on the incident.
Parents and a local school district say removing the practices all together could actually put even more students, and staff, at risk.
Josie Bock's 11-year-old son, Adam, has high-functioning autism.
"He's kind of been our kiddo that requires a lot of attention," Bock said. "When he gets frustrated and gets toward a meltdown, he sometimes can get violent and physical."
Adam is one of several special needs kids in the Springfield school district who struggle managing their own behavior in a classroom.
Stephanie Davison, Assistant Director of Special Services with Springfield Public Schools, said the district's policies on seclusion and restraint already meet requirements of the proposed legislation.
She said teachers first try verbal de-escalation exercises with students in distress. In SPS, there are no padded rooms with locked doors for isolated seclusion, but de-focus rooms, where students can work with behavior interventionists and other staff to understand and cope with their feelings.
Davison said physical restraint becomes necessary when a student is in danger of hurting themselves or others.
"It is holding the child in a position to keep them safe, with the least amount of force necessary and for the shortest amount of time we possibly can," Davison said.
Adam's mom says her sixth-grade son has not only been restrained, but he's also been handcuffed, sometimes for up to an hour.
"I'm not a big fan that they have to do it, but he puts himself in that position," Bock said. "I'd much rather that him be restrained than him hurt himself or somebody else."
Bock said she's been given notice on the days when her son has been had to be taken out of class to regroup or restrained for safety.
Monica McIver's son Wilson is in fourth grade in Ozark.
"Any other kids, loud noises that happen, he gets very upset," she said.
Wilson is mostly non-verbal, and uses an electronic device to communicate. His mom said he's more flight than fight when faced with challenges. She said he's never been put in seclusion or restraint, but has had another experience in his special needs classroom.
"Wilson has been injured by another student who is acting out," McIver said. "A couple of years ago, one of the other students was upset, grabbed his head and shook his head."
Another time, she said, a student threw Wilson's talking device across the room.
"It's not something that we can explain to him in a way that he will understand," McIver said.
She said she received a phone call from the district when her son was assaulted, and a letter was sent home when his tablet was broken.
The Ozark School District's policy on seclusion and restraint closely matches that of Springfield Public Schools, which are in line with the Missouri School Board Association.
The school officials and the parents KY3 News spoke to said they're glad lawmakers are talking about this issue, but they don't want to see too many restrictions.
"We do want everyone to be safe, staff and students, so we need ways to be able to protect," said Davison.
The move in the Missouri House of Representatives comes just one month after the state of Illinois banned isolated seclusion for discipline. Both Missouri representatives, Mackey and Bailey, have said they are not interested in a full ban, but want more regulations at the state-level.
Bailey said the pair will support whichever version of the bill that makes it to the House floor.
The legislative session starts January 8.
To read one of the bills pre-filed in the Missouri House of Representatives, click
For the news release about the bills, click
For information about Illinois' ban on seclusion, click
for Ozark's school policy on seclusion and restraint.