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New rules for restraint, seclusion in NY schools?

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The New York State Education Department is considering updating state regulations regarding the use of restraint and seclusion on schoolchildren. This follows an investigation by the Times Union, which revealed problems with the widespread use of emergency methods in many schools in New York and other parts of the country.

At the same time, state legislators are considering multiple bills to curb the use of inappropriate physical force on students, including a proposed state law to ban seclusion and limit restraint to instances where serious injury is imminent.

Restraints are often used on students with disabilities who are experiencing behavioral issues. Although those methods can cause trauma, injury and, in rare cases, death, the Times Union investigation found that educators restrained some students multiple times a day or week, in holds lasting up to two and a half hours. In some cases, students were restrained in non-emergency situations.

Children as young as three years old were held in prone restraints, which can restrict a child’s breathing, and most states ban them. New York does not. The investigation also found that children with disabilities are frequently confined alone in closet-like “time out rooms,” sometimes multiple times a day or for hours at a time. In some cases, students were improperly secluded in bathrooms, electrical and supply closets, and other unsafe spaces.

Unlike the majority of states, New York does not require public schools to report how often they use restraints and time out rooms on students. The department collects some data from private and state-run schools for students with disabilities in a voluntary annual survey.

More and more states have been updating their laws to limit the use of restraint and seclusion in school. Lawmakers and advocates in at least ten other states have introduced or are planning to file legislation governing these practices this year.

Federal legislation that has stalled for the past decade is expected to be reintroduced again this year, but aides in Congress have said they expect it will face an uphill battle due to partisan divide and gridlock in Washington.