A bipartisan effort to regulate when students can be restrained or isolated in Missouri schools is off to a quick start in the 2020 legislative session.
Representatives Dottie Bailey (R-Eureka) and Ian Mackey (D-St. Louis) have filed identical bills that would ban the use of seclusion or restraint except when students, teachers, or staff face safety concerns. House Bills 1568 (Bailey) and 1569 (Mackey) would also require that when such measures are used, all parties involved except students write a report on the incident, and require that parents or guardians be notified that the measures were applied to their student.
Mackey first filed the legislation last year, after media reports brought to light the use of those measures in Missouri. He said in the last year he has seen “tiny, empty closets built and designed solely for the purpose of isolating small children,” in Missouri schools.
“If a teacher was notified on Wednesday morning by a child that that child’s parent had locked them in a closet and would not let them out, what would that teacher do? I can tell you as somebody who spent nearly 8 years in the classroom teaching, myself, as a mandated reporter I would make an initial call to the [child abuse and neglect hotline],” said Mackey. “Yet in our schools right now in this state, that’s happening day in and day out.”
House Bill 1568 will be heard Tuesday morning by the House Committee on Elementary and Secondary Education. This afternoon, Mackey and Bailey spoke to the media joined by parents who say their children have been restrained or secluded in an unacceptable manner.
They also displayed pictures of the some of the isolation rooms they have seen in Missouri schools, including one in the school that Shawan Daniels said her son was put in, in a Columbia school.
“Some kids have learning disabilities. I don’t feel that a kid with learning disabilities should be put in this room because he acts a certain kind of way, because he’s not able to pick up on learning,” said Daniels.
Daniels said she learned that her son had been restrained about three hours after the incident.
“He came home and told me that his arm was hurting. Maybe 30 minutes later the teachers called and said that Antwan had been in an incident and they had to put him under restraint and the time that they gave me he was put in a restraint as like 1:00, and he makes it home around 3:45,” said Daniels.
The legislation would require districts to enact policies limiting the use of restraints and isolation, but does not propose penalties for violating those limitations. Both representatives say they are open to adding language to create penalties.
“It’s an open conversation,” said Mackey. “It’s reasonable to say that there would be a way for [the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education] to review, to have a disciplinary system in place for reports that are made about teachers who misuse these rooms. [Teaching is] a licensed profession. Most licensed professions have disciplinary measures that at the greatest extent would cause your license to be either suspended or put on probation, or revoked. I think that’s something we should look at,” said Mackey.
He said Illinois has had the same language he filed last year in its laws for 20 years but it was not being followed.
The lawmakers are enthused that this legislation is moving quickly in the first days of the legislative session that began last week. They said it shows House leadership considers this an important issue.
“I think it’s awesome. I think it’s great,” said Bailey. “We hope it’s fast-tracked … kids and safety isn’t a bipartisan issue. It’s just a human issue. I couldn’t sleep at night if I heard this [when it was proposed last year] and I didn’t do anything about it, and I think Ian feels the same, so I’m thrilled to death to work with him … and to start out the session like this is great.”
The committee could vote on the legislation any time after the hearing is held on it. Two House Committees approved Mackey’s proposal last year.
Earlier story: House to consider restrictions on student restraint/seclusion in Missouri public schools