Assemblywoman seeks to prohibit and regulate the use of controversial techniques after a Hearst investigation uncovered potentially harmful issues
Following a Times Union investigation that revealed the misuse and abuse of these techniques in certain public and private institutions, Assemblywoman Michaelle Solages has submitted legislation to limit the use of physical restraints and outlaw isolation in educational settings.
Solages, a Democrat from Elmont, said, "It's awful that these applications are being utilized as a method." "I believe there is broad consensus to ensure that this is heavily controlled and nearly discouraged," the author said.
The "Keeping All New York Kids Safe Act" would only permit school staff to employ physical restraints on students in circumstances when "the student's behavior constitutes an urgent threat of serious bodily damage" to the student or others. According to current regulations, teachers may restrain pupils "to protect the property of the school, school district, or others" or to deal with pupils "whose behavior is interfering with the orderly exercise and performance of school or school district functions, powers, or duties" in emergency situations.
Additionally prohibited by the Act are chemical, mechanical, prone, and supine restraints. Most states already forbid prone, chemical, and mechanical restraints.
By stating that "the forcible confinement of a pupil alone in a room or area from which the student is physically barred from leaving" is illegal, the proposed legislation would specifically outlaw "seclusion." According to state laws, pupils may now be detained alone in "time out rooms" as long as they are kept unlocked and under constant observation. Ten additional states forbid any form of pupil isolation.
Although Solages stated in an interview that she intended to extend the new laws to private schools and would be making changes to the legislation, the measure as worded only applies to public schools and Headstart programs. As the leader of the Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic, and Asian Legislative Caucus in the Assembly, Solages claimed that she was driven to take action to defend kids, in particular pupils of color and those with disabilities who are disproportionately affected by the practices.
The Times Union conducted a year-long investigation and discovered that in recent years, staff employees in New York City schools have physically restrained thousands of pupils, often several times each day. Trauma, injuries, and, in rare instances, death, can all result from the procedures.
Children as young as 3 years old were restrained in prone, or face-down, positions in several New York schools; the U.S. Department of Education advises against using prone restraints.
The Times Union also discovered that some New York pupils have spent longer than an hour at a period being sequestered in time-out rooms.
When a student's behavior is risky and cannot be regulated in any other way, restraints and time-out areas are sometimes seen as emergency remedies. Instances when schools employed these techniques to handle non-emergency situations, such as kids disobeying orders or fleeing and screaming, were found by The Times Union in school records.
In contrast to 38 states, the New York State Education Department does not compile information on how frequently restraints or timeout rooms are used in public schools. The Times Union discovered the department conducted a small yearly study asking state-run and private institutions that serve kids with disabilities how frequently they employed the techniques, but the government never made the data public. The Times Union was able to get survey data that revealed some of those schools used restraint and time-out rooms up to hundreds of times or more than 1,000 times each month.
Despite the fact that the statute as it is does not mandate it, Solages said she aims to change it so that the state is required to regularly gather data on the instances.
The legislation would mandate that only school staff, security guards, and police officers who have received training and certification via a state-approved program be allowed to employ the tactics. It would require schools to notify parents of occurrences more quickly, and it would require meetings to talk about what happened.
Grants would be given to schools to help them improve their operations, and the Education Department would have the power to withhold state funding from institutions that don't comply. Additionally, it would grant parents and children the ability to bring legal action against educational institutions that impermissibly utilize restriction and isolation.
The measure is based on a federal law with the same name that has received support in Congress but has languished in both chambers without being passed for years.
Concern over the techniques' usage in schools was also raised by other MPs.
Assembly Education Chair Michael Benedetto, a Democrat from the Bronx, stated in an interview last week that "right now, we in the Assembly are looking at the regulations as they stand and we are discussing perhaps doing some legislation." It might be challenging to create legislation that is both flexible and light on a school.
Since the Times Union looked into the matter, Senate Education Chair Shelley Mayer, a Democrat from Westchester County, said she has become troubled by tales of excessive restriction and seclusion.
I became committed to stopping these abuses and transforming the classroom into a welcome and safe place for all kids, she added. "I have visited with the state Education Department and discussed this matter with them. I am currently examining the bill that Assemblywoman Solages has presented, and I will be working with my colleagues on legislative action to address inappropriate restraint and isolation."
Sen. Pete Harckham, a Democrat from Westchester, claimed that while the measures ought to be "rare occurences," reporting indicates that they are "frequently deployed."
"We are placing our children at danger for damage and trauma," he added. "On this topic, there must be complete openness and responsibility from all schools across the state."
Democratic senator John Liu, chairman of the New York City Education Committee, said he is working on legislation to make it illegal to employ corporal punishment in schools. He also said he would look at other strategies to reduce the use of restraint and seclusion.