August 01st, 2013 - Act to Keep All Students Safe

August 01st, 2013 - Act to Keep All Students Safe

[FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: CAMBRIDGE, MA.]  – Six parents who put a national spotlight on the deadly use of physical restraints and seclusion rooms with students in schools announce a new campaign to highlight federal legislation to end these abusive practices that are  called “torture and abuse” by the bill’s sponsor, Rep. George Miller (D-CA).  The groundbreaking effort includes a call for parents and others to visit federal representatives in their home offices in August to discuss the bill. 

Action to Keep Students Safe is the brainchild of six parent advocates who have encountered physical restraint and seclusion rooms in schools personally or professionally.  They include Sheila Foster, the mother of Corey Foster, the 16 year-old whose 2012 death while being restrained at a Yonkers, NY school made national headlines, and Bill Lichtenstein, whose recent Sunday New York Times expose about the use of a seclusion room with his 5 year old daughter, Rose, in Lexington, MA, attracted a flood of media attention and “helped coalesce a national effort to end these practices and promote positive behavior interventions in schools” according to a recent honor from the Casey Medals for Meritorious Journalism. 

The other parents in the campaign include Scott Bryant-Comstock, CEO and President of the Children's Mental Health Network; and leading child advocates Ellen Chambers, founder of SPEDWatch, a civil rights and advocacy organization, Amy Peterson, an advocate and writer, and Debra Pacheco, whose granddaughter was subjected to restraint and seclusion for years without the school providing notice. 

“No parent should send their child to school and have them not come home,” said Sheila Foster, whose heart-wrenching story involving the death of her son Corey has been featured on ABC News Nightline; Anderson Cooper Live and the New York Times. 

Action to Keep Students Safe is focusing on the federal Keeping All Students Safe Act(HR 1893), introduced by Rep. George Miller (D-CA), which would limit the use of physical restraint and seclusion rooms with students unless required in an emergency to keep a child or others safe.  The Act would require schools to notify parents promptly if a child was restrained or secluded, something that does not often happen currently, and would ban dangerous mechanical and chemical restraints, and restraints that impede breathing.  

“Without Congressional action, children will continue to suffer from these abusive practices.  This legislation would make practices such as duct-taping children to chairs or restricting a child's breathing illegal.  It makes it very clear that there is no room for torture and abuse in America's schools,” said Congressman Miller, the senior Democratic member of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, upon re-introducing the bill on the House floor in May 2013.

The campaign will give voice to parents, many of whom have reported being retaliated against for speaking out about the use of these practices in schools, a matter currently being followed by the Office of Civil Rights of the U.S. Dept. of Education. The group has designated August as Action to Keep Students Safe Month, and is calling on parents, advocates and the public to visit their congressional representatives as they return to their home states and offices for summer recess. The group is providing a one-page informational sheet to bring to meetings at the representatives' local offices, and will post photos and notes from constituents visiting their local congressional offices on its website.

Action to Keep Students Safe offers a website located at KeepStudentsSafe.com, an e-newsletter, is developing an educational outreach video and PSAs, and has an online directory of the phone numbers and email addresses of federal representatives and senators to contact regarding the legislation.  A Back to School Awareness Rally is being planned for September 9, 2013 at the Leake & Watts School in Yonkers, NY, where Corey Foster died after being restrained in April 2012. 

“There's one message we have for parents, students, educators and all who are interested in keeping our kids safe,” said Bill Lichtenstein.  “Pick up your phone now, call your representative and senators and let them know how you strongly you feel about the need for the Keeping All Students Safe Act.”  

The campaign comes at a crucial time as reports of abuse and neglect of students through restraint and seclusion have flooded the media in recent months in the wake of Lichtenstein’s New York Times article and media appearances by Sheila Foster.  These reports of mistreatment and abuse by restraint and seclusion bolster the efforts by Representative Miller and Senator Thomas Harkin (D-IA) to end the improper use of these practices through federal legislation.  

A 2009 report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) showed thousands of school children have been secluded and restrained, and that these practices were used disproportionately with students who had special needs and children of color.  The U.S. Department of Education Office of Civil Rights found more than 20 deaths resulting from these practices.  Often parents were not notified, and teachers and staff were not trained in the proper use of restraints.  Currently, 20 states require no parental notification and 19 states have no laws or regulations related to the use of seclusion or restraints in schools.

Dr. Joe Ryan, a researcher at Clemson University and advisor to the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, is assisting the campaign by helping create detailed information on research-based, best-practice positive interventions that schools can use to work with students while keeping them safe.

“There's been no way for parents to connect with others about this issue nationally,” Lichtenstein said. “Our goal is to create a national dialog and to give parents a voice. There's no reason these practices should be used the way they are now, and the time has come to stop using them.”

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