VIDEO: Parent speaks about bipartisan legislation on restraint and seclusion of students

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.

Representative Dottie Bailey (at podium) points to photos of some of the rooms that have been used in Missouri schools to isolate students. (Photo: Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

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.

Representatives Dottie Bailey (speaking), Ian Mackey (left) and Chuck Basye (center of photo) are joined by some parents who say their students were improperly restrained or secluded in Missouri schools. (Photo: Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

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

Missouri law now includes expanded therapy coverage for children with disabilities

More Missouri children and teenagers with specific developmental or physical disabilities will have insurance coverage for therapeutic care under a House proposal that became law this year.

Representative Chuck Basye (right) stands with Robyn Schelp (center), her son Nathan (in yellow) and their family. (photo: Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

The language, included in Senate Bill 514, expands Missouri law that mandates coverage for therapy for children with autism spectrum disorder.  It includes physical, speech, and occupational therapies.  It will apply to plans renewed or enacted beginning January 1.

It was sponsored by Rocheport representative Chuck Basye (R), who said estimates placed the number of children this would impact at between 5,000 and 6,000.

“It was the last thing I ever thought I would get behind because I do not have anybody in my family that has a developmental disability,” said Basye.  “My brother-in-law is blind … that’s not really a developmental disability but that played a role in it.”

Basye said when he met Robyn Schelp, President of Missouri Disability Empowerment, and her 11 year-old son Nathan, who has a genetic disorder, he heard their plight and thinking about his brother-in-law put it into context.

“Bob had a lot of struggles but he ended up being very, very successful in his life because he got resources he needed at a very young age,” said Basye.

Basye also developed a special bond with Nathan, which we wrote about in March.

Schelp worked in the Capitol for three years, often with Nathan at her side, pushing for this legislation.  She said the law will now help children who have a broad array of conditions.

“The ones you’re familiar with; Downs syndrome, CP, MS, but it’s also going to apply to kids like my son, whose diagnoses are so rare that you’ve never even heard of them.  It’s any developmental disability,” said Schelp, “Which is really one of our goals, is that we start thinking of disabilities inclusively; that we don’t pick and choose who gets funding, who gets the services, but that we make sure that every child with a disability gets what they need to be successful.”

Legislators heard that making therapies more available to children when they are young makes those therapies more effective, and the benefits are seen in other aspects of their lives.

“Just speech alone, speech and language, the ability to communicate your needs is so important for day-to-day functioning, so it gives them that ability just to be independent and to function in day-to-day life, and it gives them confidence to go up and engage with people, so that’s huge, but it also helps them academically,” said Schelp.  “This is a big picture thing.  We’re not talking just, ‘Oh, great, now he can say the S sound.’  We are talking, he can now go and engage in his daily life with other people, and the same can be said for occupational therapy and physical therapy.”

Making such therapies available to children earlier in life can also lead to cost savings for families and the state.

“For example, speech, some children need help swallowing.  They will aspirate.  If they get that therapy then great, they’re going to be able to swallow properly, and if they don’t they might end up with pneumonia and   end up in the hospital,” said Schelp.  “There are a lot of health consequences that come when kids aren’t getting the therapies that they need.  Even just the ability to communicate your needs can keep you healthier and safer.”

Schelp said it is difficult for her to think about how different Nathan’s life might have been if this law had been in place when he was growing up.  He was limited to one session of each type of therapy a week, early in his life.

“Had we have had this he could’ve started getting speech therapy three times a week at the age of 2 or at the age of 3.  We had to wait until Nathan was 9 before he could start getting those therapies.  Just the progress he’s made in the last two years … I just think if he would’ve had that when he was 2 and 3, and early intervention when the development is so crucial, where might we be today?” said Schelp.  “If we would’ve had just a solid foundation of speech and language therapies at the beginning to help him, I don’t even want to think about where we could be today, but he went until the age of 9 not able to get, fully, the therapy that he needed.”

Schelp went from being so, as she put it, “out of the loop” in state politics she had to look up who her state representative was.  She encourages others to be willing to lobby for the changes they want or need in government.

“You really can do this, and if you don’t do it, it may not get done,” said Schelp.  “People don’t know what they don’t know, and if you don’t share your story and let [legislators] know what’s happening, they’re not going to be able to change anything.”

“People will listen if you talk to them.  I think we tend to think they won’t listen so we don’t even try, but they will listen … and there are more issues that, now, we’re talking on because we’re realizing we can do this, and if we work together we can get it even farther; we’ll be stronger.”

All 50 states have an autism mandate.  This legislation made Missouri the third state to expand that to cover all developmental and physical disabilities.

Basye’s legislation passed out of the House with broad support, 138-4.  That bill, House Bill 399, was eventually vetoed by Governor Mike Parson (R) because of an issue with another measure that was amended to it, but the language became law as part of SB 514, which was signed into law July 11.

Schelp’s organization has other issues that it’s working on and Basye said he would be working with her on a least one of them.

House votes to extend insurance coverage for children with developmental disabilities

The House has voted to require insurance companies to cover therapies for developmentally disabled children in Missouri, which would expand on a 2010 law that required coverage for therapy for children with autism.

House Bill 399 would prohibit companies from limiting coverage in fully insured plans for physical, cognitive, emotional, mental, or developmental disabilities.  That is less than one-third of the existing plans in the state, covering somewhere between 1,800 and 6,000 children.

The legislation is sponsored by Rocheport representative Chuck Basye (R).  He said for children to be able to continue treatments when they are young could help them avoid long-term needs and issues later in life.

“Speech therapy can prevent a child from needing a [gastrostomy] tube or from aspirating and getting pneumonia; physical therapy can prevent very expensive orthopedic surgeries and lifelong issues; and occupational therapies can prevent a child from injuries,” said Basye.

One of the driving forces behinds Basye’s interest in the issue is his relationship with a constituent, 9-year-old Nathan, whose mother Basye met during his campaign for reelection.   Nathan is one of the children who could benefit from the passage of HB 399, if only indirectly.

“Nathan and I have this connection through our dogs and he found out I’d lost one of my dogs very unexpectedly last July, and a couple of days later we were at this fundraising event for another candidate and he learned through his mother that I’d lost my dog, and he made an attempt on his own to go get me a little balloon animal dog and came over and gave it to me,” said Basye.  “I thought that was pretty cool.  I’ll never forget that moment.”

Kirkwood representative Deb Lavender (D) is a physical therapist.  She said often, children will start therapy but insurance will cover a limited number of sessions.

“So many complications can occur after that.  They don’t fully maximize their physical ability, mental abilities, capacities, and so being able to extend this therapy is so critical for these children at that time in their life,” said Lavender.

St. Louis Democrat Steve Butz called the bill well-thought-out and a good compromise between parents who were advocating for a change, and the insurance industry.

“These therapies are medicine for these developmentally disabled children.  They are medicines that improve the quality of life, help these children attain goals they could never attain, and the costs of the therapies are quite inexpensive when compared to other experimental drugs and other pharmaceuticals that, say, a child with leukemia might need for his or her survival,” said Butz.

HB 399 would not cost the state anything.  It is projected it would increase premiums for holders of fully insured plans by about 39-cents per member, per month.

The House voted 129-5 to send the bill to the Senate, which last week passed its version of this legislation.