The Missouri House has voted to tell schools in the state to enact guidelines on when students may be secluded or restrained, and to require that when it happens, the student’s parents or guardians must be notified. The bipartisan effort began when practices that one lawmaker called “archaic” came to light.
The chamber approved 149-1 House Bill 387 filed by Representative Dottie Bailey (R-Eureka). It would require schools to have policies in place for when a student can be placed in seclusion or restrained, and that those things only happen when there is imminent danger of harm to the student’s self or others.
In addition to the notification requirement the bill also includes protections for those who report violations of that policy.
“Unfortunately … some of these school districts have used seclusion and restraint for discipline and time outs and punishment. So imagine a child that already has problems interpreting the world – a kiddo with autism – then being punished for that non-interpretation and disciplined, and thrown into a box,” said Bailey. “Not only are these archaic … and need to be done away with for punishment, there are many, many other alternative therapies that have been used, that have been proven to be adequate and without hurting the child and hurting their growth and not traumatizing them further.”
Representative Ian Mackey (D-St. Louis) brought the issue to the legislature after seeing reporting on the practices in some schools. He and Bailey worked to bring the legislation forward. He said most schools in Missouri haven’t been doing anything wrong and won’t have to change any practices because of this bill.
“This bill goes after a handful of irresponsible bad actors who regularly misuse these rooms and who regularly put kids in these rooms as punishment, which violates their own policy but up until now there’s no remedy for that. This is a remedy for violations of those policies,” said Mackey.
Similar legislation passed out of the House last year and was approved by a Senate committee before COVID interrupted the normal business of the 2020 session.
Bailey said it was important to add to this year’s bill the protection for those who bring to light misuses of restraints and seclusion. She said teachers who brought evidence of violations to a House committee last year faced retaliation.
“We saw urine-filled, stained rooms. We saw drab, horrible things, and then you hear from the teachers telling this story, and I give those teachers so much credit because they took their own careers in their hands because they care about these kids,” said Bailey. “I’ve kept in touch with a couple of them and yes, retaliation has occurred.”
Hazelwood representative Paula Brown (D), a retired school teacher, said she saw retaliation against teachers who spoke out against seclusion.
“I, for one, was not retaliated against when I reported to the school administration that a kid was locked in a dark closet but I do know that it does happen, and I was probably only not retaliated against because I happened to be president of the teachers’ union at the time,” said Brown. “I’m urging the body to support this bill. It is a wonderful bill and it will protect children, and it will protect teachers.”
HB 387 also adds a prohibition to “prone restraint,” not seen in last year’s legislation.
The bill now goes to the Senate.