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Abuses, Restraints in Schools

Report Details Abuses, Restraints in Schools
Autism Society Calls on Congress to Enact Protections
Bethesda, MD- Today, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report on “Examining the Abusive and Deadly Use of Seclusion and Restraint in Schools.” The Autism Society applauds the GAO and Representative George Miller (D-CA), chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee, who called for the report, for this unflinching look at the human rights violations in our nation’s schools – the first Congressional investigation to do so.

“Parents of special-needs children shouldn’t be afraid of sending their children to school, and even more importantly, children should feel safe in their educational setting,” said Jeff Sell, Autism Society Vice President of Advocacy and Public Policy, who attended today’s Congressional committee hearing on the report.

There are many dedicated teachers in America’s schools, and many proven techniques that do not require aversive interventions or unsafe restraints and seclusion. Sadly, the GAO found “hundreds of cases of alleged abuse and death related to the use of these methods on school children during the past two decades,” with almost all involving students with disabilities. Still, investigators could not ascertain the full extent of this problem - cases often go unreported, with some states not even keeping track of incidents.

Through efforts such as the Network of Autism Training and Technical Assistance (NATTAP), the Autism Society works with educators to help give them the best tools to help both child and teacher succeed. Research suggests that schools that fully implement schoolwide positive behavior supports have fewer discipline problems than those who do not, write education experts Kathy Gould and Cathy Pratt, Ph.D., in their article, “Looking Beyond Behavior: Schoolwide Discipline and Individual Supports for Students with ASD,” published in the September 2007 edition of the Autism Society’s flagship magazine, the Autism Advocate. “Schools that are more effective in teaching positive behaviors and addressing behavioral issues, such as bullying, in a more systematic manner are going to be more supportive settings,” they write.

Currently, the GAO report points out, there is no federal system restricting the use of seclusion and restraint to emergency circumstances in school settings, as there are for hospitals and other residential treatment facilities. State laws vary: the report states that 19 states have no laws or regulations on seclusions or restraints; others have regulations, but they may only apply in certain situations; eight states specifically prohibited use of prone restraints. In a few rare cases, abuse resulted in the death of a student – and still the educator was allowed to remain in the classroom, or moved to teach in another state.

“It is wholly unacceptable for the egregious abuse of a child to be considered less criminal because it happened in a classroom,” said Representative Miller at the hearing. “Congress must step in and fill the void that has resulted in scars that may never heal for these children and their families who have been victims of this abuse. I hope the next step will be to enact a federal policy to ensure the tragic stories we will hear today will never occur again.”

“It is the hope of the Autism Society that this report brings about fundamental systems change to help eliminate these human rights abuses, and that Congress takes actions to create protections for our children,” Sell said.

The report is available in its entirety at http://www.gao.gov/new.items/d09719t.pdf. For more information about the Autism Society’s education efforts or to schedule interviews, please contact Carin Yavorcik, Autism Society Media Specialist, at 301-657-0881 x115 or cyavorcik@autism-society.org.

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Autism is a complex neurodevelopmental disability that typically appears during the first two years of life and affects a person’s ability to communicate and...

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