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COPAA FAQ: Restraint/Seclusion: Hearings, Legislation, and Beyond

Q: What hearing is being held? When and Where?

On Tuesday, May 19, Congressman George Miller, Chair of the House Education and Labor Committee will convene hearings, "Examining the Abusive and Deadly Use of Seclusion and Restraint in Schools" at 10:00 a.m. Eastern time in Room 2175 Rayburn House Office Building. More information about the hearings will be available here: http://edlabor.house.gov/hearings/2009/05/examining-the-abusive-and-dead.shtml

Q: What are the hearings about?

The hearings will focus on the use of restraint and seclusion in schools. Each year, children across America are subject to these techniques. They are forced to the ground, placed in prone restraint, strapped or tied in chairs and other devices. They are forced into locked isolation rooms. They are subject to other aversive interventions. They are killed, injured, and suffer great psychological injury.

Q: How can members of the public access the hearing?

The hearing is open to the public, but there may be long lines to attend. Plan to arrive early and be sure to leave time to clear security. The hearing will also be webcast, meaning that you can view it on your computer. We are still waiting to find out if it will be webcast at the same time the hearings occur, or available afterwards. There will also be a transcript of the hearing. More information will be available at the link above or the main page for the Committee, http://edlabor.house.gov/

Q: How does the hearing fit together with getting laws passed to protect children from restraints and seclusion? Should parents start lobbying right away? What can parents do?

The hearings are the first step in passing legislation to protect children from abusive interventions. They are designed to call attention to the issues and communicate information to the public and Congress in a compelling way. Later, legislation will be drafted. Any bill must pass both the House of Representatives and the Senate and be signed by the President to become law. In many states, bills move quickly from a hearing date to passage. It takes longer in the U.S. Congress. Parents and advocates will need to come together and work hard over the next several months to pass a bill that protects all children in this country. There will be time to do this; lobbying does not have to happen on the day of the hearing.

Q: What is the topic of the hearing? Who are the witnesses? How are the hearing witnesses chosen?

The hearings will focus on restraints and seclusion in school. One part of the hearing will likely be the Government Accountability Office's (GAO) forthcoming report on restraints and seclusion. The hearing will likely also include testimony from families whose children have been hurt by restraints and seclusion. Hearing witnesses are selected by the Committee having the hearing. The Committee may look at many factors, including which witnesses will have the greatest impact or make a particular point. Because restraint and seclusion are so pervasive, the Committee probably had many highly-qualified potential witnesses across the country and had to winnow it down to 2 or 3. But even though the hearings attract attention, the real goal here is to pass a bill that will protect children everywhere, regardless of the state they live in. Together, we can do this, as long as we keep our eye on this ball.

Q: Who are the players here? What are the Congressional Committees and how do they interact with the GAO?

The House Committee on Education and Labor is responsible for issues in the House of Representatives that affect children with disabilities, http://edlabor.house.gov . The Chairman is George Miller and the Ranking Member is Buck McKeon. The House Committee will hold these hearings. The Committee will also initiate the legislation in the House. The Senate Health Education Labor and Pensions Committee, http://help.senate.gov/ , is the Senate counterpart to the House Committee. After legislation is passed by the House, it will move to the Senate. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) is an independent, nonpartisan agency that conducts investigations for Congress. Its reports and investigations are often requested by the Committees but the GAO does its own work. The GAO website is here: http://www.gao.gov/index.html . The GAO report is not yet publicly available. Once it is available, it will likely be on the House Education and Labor website and the GAO's website.

Q: I'm new to this. How do I find out more information about Congress and how bills become laws?

COPAA has a basic summary of the Congressional process on its webpage, http://www.copaa.org/publicpolicy/congress-overview.php You can also read more detailed information on the House website at http://www.house.gov/house/Educate.shtml (Bored with this? Try Schoolhouse Rock from the 1970s"I'm just a bill".... http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mEJL2Uuv-oQ)

Q: What is COPAA? What did its report on restraint and seclusion find?

The Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates (COPAA) is a national nonprofit organization of parents, advocates, and attorneys who work to protect the civil rights of children with disabilities and ensure that they receive appropriate educational services. We have over 1200 members in 47 states and the District of Columbia. In the last 3 months, we conducted a survey that identified nearly 150 cases in which children were subjected to aversive interventions. It is here:

We received reports of children subject to prone restraints; injured by larger adults who restrained them; tied, taped and trapped in chairs and equipment; forced into locked seclusion rooms; made to endure pain, humiliation and deprived of basic necessities, and subjected to a variety of other abusive techniques.

Of the survey respondents, 71% had not consented to the use of aversive interventions; 16% had, but many believed the interventions would only be used in limited circumstances where there was an imminent threat of injury.. Moreover, 71% reported that the children in involved did not have a research-based positive behavioral intervention plans; 10% did (but parents often said that the plan was not followed). 84% of children restrained were under 14 years of age, with 53% aged 6-10. The use of abusive interventions primarily occurred in segregated disability-only classrooms or in private seclusion rooms, away from the eyes of witnesses, with only 26% of the respondents reporting incidents in the regular classroom.

Almost every disability category was represented: Autism/Asperger’s Syndrome (cited by 68% of the survey respondents), ADD/ADHD (27%); Developmental Delay, Emotional Disturbance, Intellectual Disability and Speech/Language Impairment (14%-20% of respondents); Specific Learning Disabilities (11%), and others. Many parents also indicated that their children had Down Syndrome, epilepsy, Tourette Syndrome and other specific conditions. The COPAA report is here: http://www.copaa.org/news/unsafe.html

Q: COPAA is a member of APRAIS. What is APRAIS?

APRAIS is The Alliance to Prevent Restraint, Aversive Interventions, and Seclusion. Its members include many nonprofit organizations, including the Arc, Association of University Centers on Disabilities, the Autism National Committee, the Autistic Self Advocacy Network, the Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law, COPAA, Children and Adults with Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder, the Family Alliance to Stop Abuse and Neglect, the National Alliance on Mental Illness, the National Association of Councils on Developmental Disabilities, the National Alliance on Mental Illness, the National Disability Rights Network, the National Down Syndrome Congress, the National Down Syndrome Society, the RespectABILITY Law Center, and TASH. For more information on APRAIS, visit www.aprais.tash.org.

Q: How can I find out more about restraints, seclusion, and positive behavioral interventions?

Visit the website of APRAIS, www.aprais.tash.org. There are many useful materials there, including publications, calls to action, and information for parents and those who advocate on disability issues. Another great source is the Association for Positive Behavior Support, http://www.apbs.org/
If you are seeking practice materials for attorneys and nonlawyer advocates who work to protect individual children, COPAA will be publishing legal educational materials later this year, as previously announced. These will help practitioners combat abuse and prepare them to work with individual families. The materials are not yet available.

Please feel free to reprint and re-post this FAQ in full or in part, but you should credit it to the Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates (COPAA), and provide a link to our website, www.copaa.org. Thank you very much..

Jessica Butler
Government Relations Co-Chair (for Congressional Affairs)
Council of Parent Attorneys & Advocates, Inc. (COPAA)
A National Voice for Special Education Rights and Advocacy
email: jessica@copaa.org

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