Recap of Senate HELP Committee Hearing on Restraint & Seclusion

This is a follow up on our previous post about today’s hearing on restraint and seclusion prevention with the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee. (learn more about what you can do here.)

The hearing, entitled Beyond Seclusion and Restraint: Creating Positive Learning Environments for All Students, was led by HELP Committee chair Sen. Harkin (D-Iowa). Sen. Harkin began the discussion by acknowledging that too many U.S. students “have access to the school building, but lack access to the instruction.” He said there were proven alternatives to restraint and seclusion, including practices that promote positive behaviors for students with disabilities.

Among those called to testify during the hearing was Dr. Daniel Crimmins, director of the Center for Leadership in Disability at Georgia State University. Crimmins outlined the steps taken by the State of Georgia – first in 2008 to ban restraint and seclusion in special education, and then broadened in 2010 for all students in all schools – and recalled the tragic story of Jonathan King, a 13-year-old Georgia student who hanged himself in a seclusion room with a cord a teacher gave him to hold up his pants.

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Dr. Michael George, director for the Centennial School in Bethlehem, Penn., then spoke of the remarkable turn around that schools can achieve when positive supports replace aversive interventions in schools. George discussed the culture change that took place rapidly at the Centennial School, which in one year saw physical restraints go from 233 in the first 40 days of the school year down to 1 for the last 40 days.

Download the full testimony of Michael George

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Cyndi Pitonyak, the coordinator of PBIS for Montgomery County Public Schools in Virginia, and a longtime TASH member, addressed the success her district has had by adopting a model of inclusion, early intervention, positive supports and individualized planning. Cyndi stated during the hearing that “We spend more time talking about how to make kids successful, rather than where to send them.” Cyndi is a firm believer that positive, evidence-based practices exist as tools for schools across the U.S.

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The final witness was Deborah Jackson, a parent for Easton, Penn., who recalled the story of her son and his struggle with teachers and schools that refused to understand his need to explain things that happen. Rather, she said, they shut him down – a response that often led to confrontation and restraints. After being supported in a positive environment, and having his behavioral needs addressed at the Centennial School, Jackson’s son has made a smooth transition into his local public school, where he excels in academic as well as social and extracurricular pursuits.

Download the full testimony of Deborah Jackson

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TASH is pleased by the HELP Committee’s attention to the needs and rights of children in U.S. schools, as we thank all witnesses who shared their expertise and personal accounts during this hearing. Find additional details about restraint and seclusion by visiting the APRAIS website, which contains numerous links to tools and resources.

Witnesses for the hearing meet with Sen. Harkin (D-Iowa) following the Senate Help Committee Hearing on Restraint and Seclusion. (Left to Right) Daniel Crimmins, Kelly Price, Sen. Harkin, Cyndi Pitonyak, Deborah Jackson and Michael George