House votes to restrict seclusion, restraint of students

      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.

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

      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 (Photo: Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

      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.

House members saw photos of seclusions rooms that had been used on Missouri students in this 2020 press conference. (Photo: Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

      “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.

Earlier stories:

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

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

House votes to waive federal unemployment overpayments, told Department of Labor will ‘call off the dogs’

      The Missouri House has voted to waive the biggest portion of unemployment overpayments that some 46,000 Missourians were being told to repay.  House members also heard that Governor Mike Parson (R) now supports the effort, and his Department of Labor will “pause” efforts to collect the federal portion of those overpayments while the legislation is moving.

Representatives Jered Taylor (left) and J. Eggleston (Photo: Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

      Legislators learned that many of the Missourians who applied for and received unemployment assistance last year were then told that the state erred in finding them eligible.  They were told they had to pay back the money, often months after it had already been spent on necessities.  Some Missourians owed more than $20,000.

      The bill that was passed on Thursday would waive the federal portion of those repayments, which amounts to roughly three quarters or more of what most owed.  The legislation was the product of a broad, bipartisan effort.

      “The amount that the folks will get to keep from the federal portion amounts to $668,000, on average, per House district.  So every one of our districts, on average, $668,000 will stay here in Missouri rather than going back to Washington, D.C., if we pass this,” said bill sponsor J. Eggleston (R-Maysville).

      Republic representative Jered Taylor (R) chaired the committee that held hearings with the Department of Labor about this issue.  He said waiving this portion is the right thing to do for Missourians who were and are struggling, and were encouraged to apply by the state and federal governments.

      “Now they’re being saddled with thousands of dollars of money that they have to repay when they don’t have the money.  They spent it.  We know that they spent it on important things – on food, on housing, on transportation, on clothing – to get through a difficult time when they didn’t have a job, and they still may not have a job and [the state has been] asking them to pay thousands of dollars back,” said Taylor.

      Democrats supported the bill, though some say Missouri should also waive repayment of state unemployment overpayments.  Republicans say to do that would jeopardize the integrity of the state’s unemployment trust, and lead to higher payments for the small businesses that pay into it – business which are also struggling due to the COVID crisis.

      St. Louis representative Ian Mackey (D) said some of those Missourians will be confused by hearing about this legislation and think they no longer owe anything.

      “Someone who got a bill for $5,000 from the state is going to see that we passed this legislation is going to take the letter and the bill they got from the state and tear it up and throw it away … and then a few weeks later they’re going to get a bill from the state for $800, and the same people who couldn’t afford the $5,000 bill are not going to be able to afford the $800  bill and the crisis is going to start all over again for them,” said Mackey.

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

      He and other Democrats say the state could use CARES Act money to waive the state’s share of these overpayments and keep small businesses from being impacted.  Shell Knob Republican Scott Cupps said he’d be good with that.

      “If this bill were to come back from the Senate with the state portion included and we were able to fund that with CARES Act funding, as opposed to it hurting the integrity of the unemployment fund system within the state, then that is something that I, personally, would be in favor of,” said Cupps.

      The House rejected an emergency clause – language that would make the bill effective immediately upon being signed by the governor.  Instead it would take effect August 28.  Eggleston said this was part of an effort that’s developed in the last few days to ensure the governor’s support.  He said the Department wants time for training and the creation of paperwork that would go into issuing up to 46,000 waivers.

       “Due to the work in the committee and due to our work the other day on the floor they have agreed to call off the dogs,” said Eggleston.

      He read from an email, “‘The Department of Labor is working to pause the collections processes as you requested,’ so this means that they will not be hassling folks for the federal portion.”

Eggleston continued, “For the 47,000 thousand folks in this the Department will not be hassling them from now until the end of August 28, including billing statements.  That’s the nasty letters folks were getting about, ‘We’re gonna be garnishing your wages and put a lien on your house.’  That’s stopping.”

      Taylor said he and Eggleston were skeptical, but he supports removing that emergency clause. 

      “This isn’t something that can be done overnight.  The concern is that if we do this quickly, if we do this as fast as what we’re asking that mistakes are going to be made and maybe people aren’t going to get the waiver that should deserve the waiver,” said Taylor.  “We want to make sure that the state isn’t going to mess up again, that these people aren’t going to be screwed another time by the state government, and we have been giving assurances in writing [and] in verbal communication.”

      Democrats maintained that the bill will be “pointless” without the emergency clause and most voted to keep it. 

      Cupps said since the House held hearings on the issue the Department has been working with him and other lawmakers, and the House’s actions Thursday are based on those discussions.

      “We just need to use this as an example to say, ‘The deal was made.  You better hold true to it.  If you don’t hold true to it, then I hesitate to say what we would do but I promise you, we’ll do something.’”

      The legislation was sent to the Senate with a vote of 157-3

Pronunciations:

Eggleston = (EGG-ull-stun)

Bipartisan effort seeks best way to help Missourians who owe for unemployment overpayments

      One week after hearing from the Department of Labor about the state’s efforts to seek repayment of erroneous unemployment payments from struggling Missourians, a bipartisan slate of House members is debating the best way to provide relief.

      The Special Committee on Government Oversight has heard that of roughly $150-million in overpayments, only a small portion – roughly a quarter or less – came from the state’s unemployment trust.  State statute requires the Department to get that paid back. 

Representatives Scott Cupps and Jered Taylor (photo: Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

      The larger portion comes from federal covid relief, the repayment of which the federal government has said states can choose to waive.  Missouri Governor Mike Parson (R) has told his Department he wants it to be paid back.

      The committee held a hearing on six bills – three filed by Republicans and three by Democrats – and a resolution filed by a Democrat, to deal with the issue.   

      The big question before lawmakers is whether to require that Missourians pay back overpayments out of the state fund.  Committee members from both parties say they would like to waive all repayment, but some are questioning whether that can be done.  They are unanimous about finding a way to waive the federal repayments, but some think the state portion might have to be recouped.

      Shell Knob Republican Scott Cupps said a priority for the Department is to maintain the integrity of the state’s unemployment trust.  His bill is one of those that would waive repayment of federal funds, but require Missourians to pay back state overpayments.

      “If you’re sitting there staring at a letter that says you owe $4,200 back that’s probably not something you’re going to be able to digest real easy.  Where if it says, ‘Hey, you owe $500 back and we’re going to be able to put you on a payment plan where you pay $50 a month for a couple of years, that’s probably something you can digest a heck of a lot easier,” said Cupps. 

      Cupps, who sits on the House Budget Committee, is one of those concerned that to waive the repayment of state benefits, the state would have to replenish the fund.  This could come from other core budget functions, such as schools or transportation. 

      St. Louis Democrat Peter Merideth, also a Budget Committee member and sponsor of the resolution, noted that Governor Parson has proposed putting $500-million in federal CARES Act relief funds into the state’s unemployment trust.  He suggests that would be a way to waive repayment of state overpayments while maintaining the fund.

Representatives LaKeySha Bosley, Ian Mackey, and Doug Clemens (photo: Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

      “I think that we need to not wrap ourselves in circles trying to figure out where this money’s coming from and simply recognize that if we think this is an important form of the relief, well the federal government has given us $2-billion in relief money to use right now.  Let’s use that,” said Merideth.

      Cupps and other Republicans said they would consider that option. 

“The main thing that I talked to the Department about was maintaining the integrity of the trust,” said Cupps.  “If it’s already been discussed that we were gonna throw some CARES Act money in there … it is something that could be a tool in the toolbox … it’s something we maybe should look at.”

      Five of the six bills filed are largely the same.  Committee Chairman Jered Taylor (R-Republic), the sponsor of one of them, said his intention is to pare them down into one bill and to have the committee vote next week on that and the resolution.

The legislation dealing with unemployment overpayments includes: House Bill 1085 (Taylor), House Bill 1083 (J. Eggleston – R, Maysville), House Bill 1050 (Cupps), House Bill 1036 (LaKeySha Bosley – D, St. Louis), House Bill 1035 (Doug Clemens – D, St. Ann), House Bill 873 (Ian Mackey, D-St. Louis), and House Concurrent Resolution 30 (Merideth).

Earlier story: House Members Denounce State’s Seeking Payback of Unemployment Benefits

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.