House Passes Bill to Stop Forcible Discipline in Schools

Filed under: In The News

The reports coming out of these places are horrific.

People are held against their will, even though they haven't committed any crimes. If they fail to cooperate, they're held down or tossed into solitary confinement. Sometimes they are physically restrained.

Some of them have developmental disabilities or other special needs and are not mentally or emotionally equipped to withstand such treatment. Some literally die as a result.

These are not psychotics, criminals or terrorism suspects. They are not being held at Guantanamo Bay or Abu Ghraib.

This is school. And the victims are children.Congress is thinking the Ninth Amendment and its prohibitions against cruel and unusual punishment might just apply to school children, as well.

Members of the House passed a bill on March 3 to restrict the use of forcible restraint and seclusion on children at schools that receive federal funding. That ticks off some of the nation's private schools.

It also raised some objections on the floor of the House.

Rep. John Kline, R-Minn., said during floor debate that discipline is more an art than a science, and Congress should think twice before tying schools' hands when it comes to, well, trying students' hands, ABC News reports.

"[T]he states and not the federal government should take the lead on developing and implementing these policies," he said during floor debate.

His fellow Republican, Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington, disagrees.

"This critical piece of legislation confronts the unimaginable situation in schools across the country whereby some of our nation's most vulnerable children are treated in an inhumane and degrading manner," McMorris Rodgers says in a prepared statement.

The New York Times reports the bill breezed through the House. A companion bill in the Senate is expected to be debated this year.

The bill passed 262 votes to 153, the Times reports, with a coalition of 238 Democrats and 24 Republicans already behind it. Dozens of groups that work with disabled children backed the bill along with the American Federation of Teachers.

According to the Times, the bill was inspired, in part, by a government report last year that found hundreds of children -- from preschool to high school -- were emotionally traumatized and physically harmed by being held down or locked up. Some of them were even allegedly tied to chairs.

The victims, the Times reports, were often children with developmental disabilities or were in special education classrooms.

Cedric Napoleon was a special education student in 2002, when he was smothered to death by his eighth-grade teacher.

"Cedric struggled as he was being held in his chair, so the teacher put him in a face down or in a prone restraint and sat on him," his foster mother, Toni Price, testified before the House Education and Labor Committee in May.

"He struggled and said repeatedly: 'I can't breathe.' 'If you can speak, you can breathe,' she snapped at him," Price continued. "Shortly after that, he stopped speaking and he stopped struggling. He stopped moving at all. The teacher continued to restrain him.

"Finally the teacher and aide put Cedric back in his chair," Price testified. "The aide wiped drool off his mouth and they sat him up. But he slumped over and slipped out of his chair."

Except in cases of imminent danger, the bill prohibits restraints that restrict breathing and any mechanical restraints such as straps, as well as drugs intended to control a child's behavior [other than ones prescribed by a child's doctor].

The bill allows for "time outs," but not for a child to be locked in a room away from supervision. It also requires states to keep careful records, any time children are restrained or secluded. School officials must promptly tell parents of such incidents.

Last May Price said she wants to make sure no other children die in the name of classroom discipline.

"It is awful the way Cedric died," she told committee members. "The morning Cedric died, as he was boarding the bus, he turned around and got a beaming smile on his face, and said to me, 'You know I love you, ma.'"

"He was a good kid."

Related: Corporal Punishment

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AdviceMama Says:
Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.