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

House to consider restrictions on student restraint/seclusion in Missouri public schools

The Missouri House will consider limitations on when the state’s public schools can restrain students or put them in seclusion.

Representative Dottie Bailey (photo: Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

Two bills were prefiled for the session that begins next month, one by Representative Dottie Bailey (R-Eureka) and one by Representative Ian Mackey (D-St. Louis).  Missouri is one of 11 states that has no protective laws for students with disabilities.  It also has no law protecting against seclusion or restraint.

Bailey, who will be the vice-chair of the House Committee on Elementary and Secondary Education, said she was disturbed by the stories she heard when Mackey presented his legislation during the 2019 session.

Bailey said she was surprised to learn how restraint and seclusion were being applied.

“It’s very archaic or medieval, whatever words you want to use,” said Bailey.

Mackey said advocates brought the issue to him and when he researched it, the stories he read were alarming, and many of them come from Missouri.

“I began to research it and quickly found story after story after story of children who had been locked in these rooms, these closets, without their parents knowing, for extended periods of time, for multiple days, in every part of our state,” said Mackey.  “It immediately became clear to me that it was an urgent issue and that it was an issue that we should address right away.”

Representative Ian Mackey (photo: Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

House Bills 1568 (Bailey) and 1569 (Mackey) would ban the use of seclusion and restraint except when there are health or safety concerns for students, teachers, or staff; require that when restraint or seclusion are used that all parties involved except students write a report on the incident; and require the notification of parents or guardians of the incident within 24 hours.  It would allow parents or guardians access to all reports on the incident and the right to a meeting to review it, and allow them to file a complaint with the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.

Bailey said just as important is that the legislation would put into state law a definition of seclusion and restraint.

“When you have a definition or there’s no definition at all, well anything goes.  Putting someone in a room for three hours, well you can just call that a ‘time out,’ because nothing is defined, so we’re going to put some structured guidance around that,” said Bailey.

Both lawmakers say there could be times when seclusion or restraint is necessary, so their bills don’t aim to bar it altogether.

“I think that there are a few stories that exist of children who can at some points be particularly violent, and obviously if a child is being violent and posing a direct, serious physical safety threat to others around them, then that’s an instance where that child needs to be removed and that’s what our bill allows for,” said Mackey.  “What we see happening … is kids are just doing kid things … they’re not exhibiting a threat to the extent that would require them to be locked away, and again without their parents even being notified.”

Two House committees passed Mackey’s legislation in 2019.  He and Bailey are optimistic their bipartisan effort can get a bill through the legislative process in 2020.

The new session begins January 8.

New law will affect school start dates beginning next year

Some schools will be starting classes later under a bill signed into law last month by Governor Mike Parson (R).

Representative Jeff Knight (photo by Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

Missouri law has allowed school districts to begin classes up to ten days before the first Monday in September, but an earlier start date could be set if a district’s board approves it in a public meeting.  A provision in House Bill 604 repeals that provision, and allows districts to set start dates no earlier than 14 days before the first Monday in September.

The provision was proposed by Lebanon Republican Jeff Knight, who said earlier start dates hurt two of the state’s top industries:  tourism and agriculture.

“The tourism dollars that are lost in August because these schools start earlier and earlier and earlier was becoming significant,” said Knight.  “There was some opposition from a lot of school groups talking about local control, but at the same time, we need those revenues to help fund schools.”

Knight said at least one study found a 30-percent decrease in July and August lodging tax collections at the Lake of the Ozarks over the last decade.  He compared that to changes in school start dates and saw that in that time, many districts that had been starting after Labor Day ten years ago were now starting around the second week of August.

“Big Surf water park testified during the committee that they actually closed the Big Surf water park last year August 13.  It wasn’t because people quit coming to Big Surf, it was more that all of their workers and employees were going back to school,” said Knight.

Knight said agriculture is also affected as students who would be working on farms are pulled away for classes during potential harvest periods.

“There are still people in our area, with the drought earlier last year and the rain situation of early this year, there’s still people cutting hay right now,” said Knight.

Knight said what can’t be measured in dollar amounts or percentages are the family vacations that might be altered by earlier start dates, and the memories and experiences families could be having together by being allowed more time in the summer months.  He said for many families, taking vacation in the spring simply isn’t as appealing.

“[School districts who opposed the change] would argue that we get out in the middle of May and you can make up for tourism in that, and my response was, ‘Have you ever jumped in the lakes or the rivers in the middle of May?’  They’re extremely cold … where in August, it’s still extremely hot.”

Knight, who is a former educator, said extending the start date cutoff from 10 to 14 days means districts can still start reasonably early.

“Ten days before the first Monday is a Friday.  Well, it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to start school on a Friday.  14 days means you can start on a Monday, but you still gain, in some years, an extra weekend, and in some years, depending on how the holiday falls, two weekends,” said Knight.

The provision of HB 604 regarding schools’ start date doesn’t affect districts until the start of the 2020-21 school year.

House Committee considers legislation to stop abusive teachers from going to new districts

The Missouri House is looking for ways to keep schools from hiring people known to have sexually abused students while working in other districts.

Representative Rocky Miller and Missouri KidsFirst Director of Public Policy, Jessica Seitz. (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

House Bill 739 sponsored by Lake Ozark Republican Rocky Miller would require full disclosure between districts about former employees, and require a district to contact any district or charter school a person previously worked for, for background information.

Cara Gerdiman, Executive Director of Kids Harbor Child Advocacy Center, said with such requirements not already in place, some abusers are able to impact more children’s lives before being caught.

“Kids are put at risk and there’s lifetime consequences for that, ranging from mental health issues to medical issues to just their well-being, and the trauma that they’ve experienced,” said Gerdiman.

Jessica Seitz with Missouri KidsFirst told the House Committee on Elementary and Secondary Education the bill would be another positive step toward protecting children in Missouri schools.

“According to a 2010 GAO report, on average a teacher offender will be passed to three different districts before being stopped,” said Seitz.

The bill would add 2.5 hours of training focused on sexual harassment to what is required of new school board members.  Returning school board members would be required to take at least one hour of refresher training annually.

Seitz said that increased training is one of the most important pieces of HB 739.

“Every organization that serves children, and particularly schools, must operate under the assumption that some people who sexually abuse children may work for them,” said Seitz.  “Organizations that serve children have an obligation to create an environment that is inhospitable to sexual abuse.  These environments must be nurtured from the top with leaders, such as the school board, who understand the risks and actively work to train staff and volunteers, and institute child protection policies.”

Gerdiman said board members will be better equipped to protect children with the additional training the bill would mandate, “so that they are more aware of the signs and symptoms of child abuse; the process of disclosure when a child is ready to talk about what has happened to them; as well as grooming behaviors that adult alleged perpetrators and juvenile perpetrators may use,” said Gerdiman.

The bill would also require annual, age appropriate sexual harassment training for students in grades 6 and up.  Some lawmakers questioned whether the legislation should include an option for parents to opt out of that training for their children.

HB 739 would specify that exemptions to Missouri’s open records law, or “Sunshine Law,” would not allow a district to withhold documents on a person if they relate to a confirmed violation of policies against abusing students.

“It’s just to make sure that you can’t hide behind the sunshine law if you’ve been abusive towards a student,” said Miller.

Lawmakers on the committee are also considering whether the bill should be broadened to include abuse not directed at students.

The committee will consider the legislation and potential changes to it at a future hearing, before voting on whether to advance it to the full House for debate.

Missouri legislature completes special session, sends two bills to Governor Parson

The Missouri legislature moved quickly to pass two bills that were the subject of a special session called by Governor Mike Parson (R).

Representative Kevin Austin (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

Parson called lawmakers back into session to reexamine issues covered in two bills he vetoed.  One of those would establish statewide standards for treatment courts, such as drug and veteran courts; the other would allow high school computer science courses to count toward graduation requirements for math, science, or practical arts credits.  The House voted on Wednesday to send those bills to the Senate, and today the Senate approved those bills without making any changes to them.  That means they go to Parson for his consideration.

Representative Kevin Austin (R-Springfield) sponsored House Bill 2, which deals with treatment courts.  Such courts in Missouri provide a court-supervised, comprehensive treatment program as an alternative to jail time.  Lawmakers and prosecutors agree the program is not an easy out for a defendant.

Over the years courts have been established in numerous districts in the state but without universal guidelines for how to operate.  HB 2 seeks to provide those.

“It allows the expansion of treatment courts to counties that don’t have it but would like to have it.  It also allows for the coordinating commission to establish best practices based on scientific research that’s been done on the effectiveness of treatment courts and what works and what doesn’t,” said Austin.  “It allows for more data collection as well, it allows for technical assistance from [The Office of State Courts Administrator] to these courts.”

Austin said one of his favorite parts of the bill is a transfer clause, which will allow defendants who are candidates for treatment courts but are in a circuit that doesn’t have them, to be transferred to a circuit which does have them.

“That is not going to result in just dumping from one county to another of these defendants.  It has to be agreed to by both the transferring county and the receiving county.  It has to be agreed to by the prosecuting attorney as well as the defendant,” said Austin.

Austin said treatment courts save lives and improve the quality of lives, and not just the lives of the defendants that go through them.

“There’s people that interact with that person every day.  Maybe it’s their family, maybe it’s their neighbors, maybe it’s the merchants who they might otherwise be shoplifting from, it’s us as taxpayers.  It affects all of us in a very positive way.  It’s a way that we can restore dignity and return this person to a productive life,” said Austin.

House Bill 3 would let computer science courses count toward math, science, or practical arts credits needed for graduation.  Under the bill students could begin in middle school to be prepared for the opportunities they could have in the job market.  Its sponsor, Holts Summit Republican Travis Fitzwater, has been working on STEM legislation for years.

Representatives Jeanie Lauer and Travis Fitzwater (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

“I’m thrilled it’s done,” Fitzwater said on Wednesday after the House passed his legislation.

“What we need is broadening opportunities and this is doing that for kids … and at the heart of it that’s what I’m trying to accomplish with this bill,” said Fitzwater.

Representative Jeanie Lauer (R-Blue Springs) chaired the House Committee on Workforce Development and worked with Representative Fitzwater on the computer science portion of HB 3.  She said it could help move Missouri forward in workforce development.

“We know that from site selectors that are looking for where to place businesses that is the top item that they’re looking for in criteria is what is the workforce pool, and in order for us to be competitive not only within our state but with other states we have to increase the talent that we have, and this is certainly a step toward that,” said Lauer.

Parson announced on August 30 his call for the special session and legislators worked quickly to pass new versions of these bills that addressed the concerns he cited with his vetoes, while spending as little time as possible on the special session.  The session’s costs were lessened because it coincided with the constitutionally-mandated veto session.

Missouri legislature called into special session for STEM, treatment court bills

The Missouri Legislature will convene for a special session next month to reexamine two bills vetoed by Governor Mike Parson (R).

One bill dealt with guidelines for treatment courts.  The other allows high school computer science courses to count toward graduation requirements for math, science, or practical arts credits; and aims to begin preparing students at an earlier age for the opportunities they could have in the job market.

In Parson’s veto messages, he said the treatment courts bill appeared to violate the state constitution’s prohibition on legislation covering multiple subjects.  He objected to a provision in the education bill that he said seemed to narrow a bidding process down so that only one company could qualify.

Representative Kevin Austin (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

Treatment courts in Missouri provide a court-supervised, comprehensive treatment program as an alternative to jail time.  Participants must complete a rigorous regimen including interventions and supervision in order to complete the program.  Drug courts, juvenile treatment courts, and veterans’ courts are some examples of these programs.

House Bill 2562 was sponsored by Springfield Representative Kevin Austin (R).  He said in the past the legislature has dealt with treatment courts in a “piecemeal” fashion, and the main goal of the bill was to consolidate the various types of treatment courts and lay out best practices.

“When we start a new treatment court in a county or a circuit, the judge that has that can have some direction and have some guidance on what to do … this is going to provide some of those directions and best practices, which are also evolving as we learn more about treatment courts nationally,” said Austin.

The bill would also allow defendants in a circuit that lacks a treatment court to be transferred to one in another circuit, with certain approvals.

Austin said treatment courts benefit not only participants, but also their families and communities, and they save the state money through factors such as decreasing incarcerations.

The House handler of the education legislation is Representative Travis Fitzwater (R-Holts Summit), who has worked on STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) bills for several years.  He doesn’t believe that Senate Bill 894 needed to be vetoed, but is “thrilled” the governor and legislative leadership saw the issue as important enough to revisit it in a special session.

Representative Travis Fitzwater (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

“I think we just need to make sure that we broaden it to the extent that it makes it a process where more software companies can have access to it,” said Fitzwater.

Fitzwater said the STEM portion of SB 894 is aimed at middle school students.

“Why it’s so important to have the curriculum in middle school is because there are studies that show that 25-percent of high schoolers don’t have any idea what’s available to them in career fields when they graduate, and that’s a real problem,” said Fitzwater.  “The reason to have it early it middle school is the earlier the better in giving them some career paths that may interest them or to weed out maybe some fields that they’re not interested in as well.”

Fitzwater said by readdressing his legislation in a special session rather than waiting for the new session to begin in January, its provisions might not have to be pushed back another school year.  This would allow another grade level of students to benefit from it.

Austin said the sooner the legislature can deal with the treatment courts issue, the sooner the state’s courts can begin implementing the most effective practices.  It would also make a difference for defendants who could benefit from treatment courts but might not have access to them, especially in cases in which the transfer language would apply.

The special session will begin Monday, September 10 and will overlap with the annual veto session, which was already scheduled to begin Wednesday, September 12.

Additional audio:  Kevin Austin says treatment courts offer an alternative to jail time, but a defendant must go through a rigorous process to successfully complete the program and faces that jail time if he or she fails.

“Treatment court is not a ‘get out of jail free’ card.  It requires a ton of hard work by the defendant or the participant in the drug court … We’re changing lifestyle habits so it’s not something we can do in six months. It takes time.  The participant or defendant realizes that and actually signs a contract agreeing to this lengthy, arduous process.”

Westchester Elementary students reject mock legislation to eliminate recess

An attempt to eliminate recess in the Westchester Elementary School was unanimously defeated today in the Missouri Capitol, by a legislative committee made up of members of its 4th grade class.

Students Keaton Bradshaw (left, holding base of microphone), Jacob Whitson, and Keaton Coldwater testified against a mock bill that would have eliminated recess at their school, Westchester Elementary, while 4th grade teacher Brigette Ryan (left) listens.

The class held a mock hearing on the proposal, giving its students a chance to learn more about how the legislative process works.

The hearing was chaired by Kirkwood Democrat Deb Lavender, whose district includes Westchester Elementary.

“How many of you were upset when I told you there had been a bill filed to take away recess?” Lavender asked the students, who all put their hands up in response.  “And even when I told you I was just kidding you were still a little upset because it might be true, right?”

Lavender explained that sometimes people come to the Capitol to testify on real bills that they have a concern about, just as students today testified about this made-up legislation.

The students had prepared in the weeks leading up to the mock hearing learning how the legislative process works and preparing to make their case against the banning of recess.

The mock bill was introduced by 4th grade teacher Jeni Ono, who presented the arguments for this made-up proposal.

“According to an article in Education World, students need to prepare by spending more time on academics in order to perform well on standardized tests, and we need those test scores to be as high as possible,” said Ono.  “To be successful in life children need academic learning.  Trimming a few minutes off of recess or even eliminating it altogether won’t hurt children at all.  They get a lot of time at home, after school hours to get physical activity in the day.”

No one spoke in favor of eliminating recess except Ono and her fellow 4th grade teacher Brigette Ryan.

Children argued that recess gives them time in sunlight during which they are exposed to healthy Vitamin-D, that it gives them time to interact socially, and that studies have shown that children need time for unstructured play in order to thrive.

4th grader Keaton Coldwater said sometimes kid need a break just like adults.

“When you’re in class sometimes it gets uncomfortable, and you just want to get outside and do something other than just sit in class, so it reduces stress.  If you’re stressed about something you just get outside and play,” said Coldwater.

The student committee held a vote and the mock bill to eliminate recess was defeated 11-0.  Lavender noted this was the third year such a proposal had been offered and defeated, and she expects it will come up again for future students to consider.

Legislature’s budget follows House lead; fully funds K-12 schools for first time

The state legislature has passed a budget proposal that for the first time fully funds the current form of the K-12 education funding formula.  The $27.7-billion spending plan for the fiscal year that begins July 1 would pump $48-million more dollars into the state’s public schools, providing them with nearly $3.4-billion.

Representative Scott Fitzpatrick (photo: Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)
Representative Scott Fitzpatrick (photo: Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

The inclusion of full funding of the formula was a personal win for House Budget Committee Chairman Scott Fitzpatrick (R-Shell Knob).

“It was the number one thing I was going to figure out how to do when I released the [earliest version of the House’s budget proposal], was to fully fund the formula,” said Fitzpatrick.  “I made that decision early on.”

House Democrats including Representative Deb Lavender (Kirkwood) say they are pleased with the funding increase, but point out that the legislature passed last year a bill reinstating a cap on how much the formula can grow year-to-year.

“Yes we’re fully funding the foundation formula – at a rate of $450-million less than what the foundation formula would have been a year-and-a-half ago,” said Lavender.  “So, are we fully funding that?”

Representative Deb Lavender (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)
Representative Deb Lavender (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

House Democrat Leader Gail McCann Beatty (Kansas City) said the budget included a “phantom fully funding of the formula.”

Republicans said reinstating that cap meant the formula would not continue to grow beyond what the legislature could appropriate.

“When the General Assembly took that cap off in 2010, starting at that point the formula has never been funded.  They tweaked the formula in a way that made it unfundable,” said Fitzpatrick.  “My contention would be that the formula that was agreed to in 2005, that everybody got in a room and worked out, is fully funded.”

The legislature’s proposal would also restore funding for school transportation, which Governor Eric Greitens (R) had proposed cutting.

The House and Senate voted to send that budget to Greitens Thursday, one day ahead of the constitutional deadline, and one day after selected House and Senate conferees finalized a compromise between each chamber’s proposals.