Then and Now: Seclusion and Restraints
Today let's revisit the second policy issue covered during last year's Jewish Disability Awareness Month: the Preventing Harmful Restraint and Seclusion in Schools Act.
As I explained in the latest issue of Torah at the Center (see page 19 for the article titled "Make School Safe for All Students"), the Preventing Harmful Restraint and Seclusion in Schools Act, later re-named the Keeping All Students Safe Act (H.R. 4247/S. 2860), would have established federal standards for the use of seclusion and restraints in schools. Currently, only 31 states have laws regulating these practices in schools, and a May 2009 report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office found that some of these state laws do not require parental notification, do not prohibit the use of restraints that hinder a child's ability to breathe or are otherwise inadequate.
The Keeping All Students Safe Act passed the House of Representatives in March 2010, but it stalled in the Senate and never made it to the President's desk. After the bill passed the House, Senators amended the bill to permit the use of seclusion and restraints, under certain circumstances, as part of a student with disabilities' Individualized Education Plan (IEP). This action split the disability rights advocacy community between those who argued that permitting these practices in a student's IEP would legitimize them and others who felt that a flawed bill was better than no bill at all. Ultimately, the Keeping All Students Safe Act was unable to overcome the philosophical split among its supporters before the end of the 111th Congress (any bills not passed at the end of the two-year Congress expire and must be re-introduced in the next Congress to be considered again).
So far, the bill has not been re-introduced, but we do not have to wait for legislative action to ask ourselves: How can I make sure that the realities in my child's classroom, in Jewish day schools, and in schools across my state and country reflect my Jewish values?
These are conversations that must take place in our families, our congregations, our day schools and the greater community. Jewish Disability Awareness Month is a fitting time to start these conversations, but we must continue examining this issue throughout the year if we are to create a k'hilah k'doshah, a holy community in which all people are valued and treated according to their fundamental dignity.