Rep. Gregg Harper
Special to Roll Call
May 14, 2012, Midnight
Every day in schools across the United States, students are being subjected to barbaric and potentially deadly treatment in the form of seclusion and restraint.
According to leading education researchers and child trauma experts, as well as the Government Accountability Office, the use of these practices — which include forcibly pinning students to the ground, strapping them to chairs or locking them in closets — is dangerous and traumatic for everyone involved, including teachers, other school personnel and students. Their use has been linked to physical and emotional harm and even death. It is a practice that amounts to institutionalized child abuse, and it has no place in our schools.
That is why the American Association of School Administrators’ recent endorsement of the use of seclusion and restraint in our schools is so disheartening. In promoting the use of these harmful practices, the organization is recommending a policy that could make our schools significantly more dangerous for students and educators alike.
Sadly, seclusion and restraint is primarily inflicted on young children with disabilities. Seventy percent of children who suffer this treatment have significant disabilities. Most are between the ages of 6 and 10.
Think about it: The most vulnerable of our children, the ones we should be nurturing and protecting, are the most likely to endure this violent, degrading and sometimes deadly practice. Imagine the lifelong damage young children can suffer when they are handled this way by teachers or others who have been entrusted with their care.
Experience and research show that seclusion and restraint are actually counterproductive and increase the likelihood of violence in classrooms. Across the United States, school districts that have renounced their use experience significantly less problematic behavior from students. Tellingly, they also report substantial reductions in workers compensation claims by teachers and staff as a result of altercations with students.
Ultimately, the AASA’s position on seclusion and restraint is really a reflection of the group’s disregard for children with disabilities.
The implication is that these vulnerable children are a burden to schools, rather than an equally important part of the student population. The underlying attitude is that these children are disrupting their efforts to educate the “good” students and that something must be done to keep disruptions to a minimum. What better way to accomplish this than by locking the disruptive child in a closet for the day?
Fortunately, most of the educators I’ve met and come to know, both as a parent and as an elected official, don’t share this attitude. They recognize that each child is precious and presents unique challenges and opportunities, and they are committed to educating everyone. The question is: How can we provide educators the support and guidance they need to educate every child in the classroom, even those who present behavioral challenges?
For school administrators, the answer can be found in providing teachers with evidence-based behavior management training to give them the skills they need to avoid dangerous situations and neutralize threatening behavior. Rather than encouraging potentially dangerous responses to challenging behaviors, administrators should provide teachers the necessary tools to avoid them.
Of course, the responsibility doesn’t lie solely with school administrators, or teachers for that matter. Parents of children with behavioral issues must be willing to work closely with school staff to help them better understand their children and the types of situations and stimuli that can lead to outbursts. The better teachers know the student, the more likely they’ll be able to create a safe and supportive environment.
Finally, policymakers and legislators can play an important role by creating sensible and realistic standards and regulations to assure that every school is safe for students and teachers alike. Some states are already doing a good job of dealing with this issue and can offer valuable lessons to officials and lawmakers in other states.
Ideally, legislators should be working with experienced behaviorists to create uniform guidelines that could be adopted by each state.
Everyone wants safe schools. However, any approach that legitimizes seclusion and restraint undermines safety while marginalizing our society’s most vulnerable children. We can — and must — do better for our children.
Rep. Gregg Harper (R-Miss.) is a member of the Energy and Commerce, House Administration and Ethics committees.
More about Congressman Gregg Harper and Fragile X
As the parent of a child with Fragile X syndrome, Congressman Gregg Harper understands fully the daily challenges faced by families with special needs children. As chairman of the bipartisan Fragile X Caucus, Congressman Harper is committed to increasing awareness of this genetic disorder and improving the health of children and adults across the country living with this disorder. In 2010, the caucus – in close cooperation with the National Fragile X Foundation – reached many of its targeted objectives. Working with Senator Thad Cochran of Mississippi and other members of Congress, the Caucus secured funding for a national post-secondary education demonstration program which was authorized in the 2008 Higher Education Opportunities Act, but was previously not funded. This program will allow young adults with all intellectual disabilities – including Fragile X – the opportunity to enjoy the college experience.
The Fragile X Caucus supported funding for the Center for Disease Control (CDC) to establish public health activities for Fragile X syndrome. The coalition also obtained report language in support of efforts at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) for the implementation of the NIH Research Plan on Fragile X. Additionally, the Caucus succeeded in adding Fragile X to the list of disorders eligible for medical research projects under the Department of Defense’s (DOD) Peer Reviewed Medical Research Program.
These accomplishments have had a significant impact on the Fragile X community, but this is only the beginning of Fragile X advocates’ promising journey. For Fiscal Year 2011, the Fragile X Caucus worked with members of Congress to push the NIH Research Plan on Fragile X Syndrome and Associated Disorders and urged Congress to continue funding translational research that shows significant promise of a safe and effective treatment for this disorder.
The Fragile X Caucus also requested that the Department of Defense expand the Peer Reviewed Medical Research Program to include Fragile X-associated Disorders in the eligible research topics for Fiscal Year 2011. Additionally, the Caucus advocated for continued support to grow the National Fragile X Public Health Initiative and the Fragile X Clinical & Research Consortium in order to expand to geographically underserved regions.