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DuBose Continues A Decade-Long Quest To Curb Use Of Seclusion And Restraint On Students In Schools

Alan Levine

For more than a decade Florida lawmakers have been trying to limit the use of seclusion and physical restraints on students who may act out, and for more than a decade, they’ve failed to do so. The issue, for some—is straightforward: the methods don’t work and can even cause physical and emotional harm to kids, but advancing the proposal through the process has been frustrated time and again.

Tony DePalma, with the advocacy group Disability Rights Florida, calls the seclusion and restraint bill one of the most perpetual and vexing legislative puzzle pieces he’s seen:

“The conversation has arrived at this point a decade later and we’re still looking to the legislature to come back and address the needed standards definitions and prohibitions…speaks volumes about why it’s vexing," he said.

It’s not like nothing has been done. In 2010, the Florida legislature approved a law requiring the state to collect data on the use of seclusion and restraint on students with disabilities yet stopped short of banning the practices. Since then, Florida lawmakers like House minority leader Bobby DuBose have been trying to do that.

"These types of incidents can lead to cases where students have suffered bone fractures, bleeding and in some cases, death. Restraint and seclusion are not currently defined in Florida law. These techniques are traumatizing in nature and need to be addressed here in Florida, especially when we’re talking about students with disabilities," he said in his introduction of the bill to the House's Early Learning committee Wednesday.

State reporting has found more than 21,000 incidents of seclusion and nearly 87,000 incidents of restraint since tracking began just over a decade ago. Many of the kids who’ve been subjected to that treatment are elementary-school aged and have disabilities. The state’s reporting has also found the frequency of use has declined since it started keeping tabs. DuBose’s bill bans seclusion and limits how long, in what circumstances, and what type of restraint can be used on students. It also bans the use of straitjackets, handcuffs and zip ties on students.

DePalma, with disability rights Florida, says renewed attention on children, behavior and mental health may also be driving the bill. People know a lot more know about behavior and trauma today than they did before.

"The data that existed back in the 2010-11 school year showed this was happening, not just frequently, but to the same students often, and oftentimes as a routine matter of addressing behavioral management. And that’s another instance of where this legislation modernizes the conversation," he said.

And parents, says DuBose, are paying a lot more attention—given high profile stories about children being arrested or involuntarily committed when they act-out in school.

“Just as a parent, it’s very personal to me…we can put tools in place that protect our most vulnerable but even as a parent—make us feel more comfortable sending our kids off to a school.”

Democratic Senator Lauren Book is carrying the bill in that chamber and its co-sponsor is Republican Senator Ray Rodriguez, signaling bipartisan support. Florida lawmakers got close to passing a bill in 2018 but it died over disagreements about reporting requirements. DePalma thought that would be the year it happened.

Sound- “I had actually written a letter to our education team… explaining all the new changes and how exciting it was going to be that Florida had taken the correct step forward in the conversation and you know, I probably have that email saved somewhere in a Folder because I was never able to send it.”

He’s hoping this is the year he gets to hit send.

Follow @HatterLynn

Lynn Hatter is a Florida A&M University graduate with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. Lynn has served as reporter/producer for WFSU since 2007 with education and health care issues as her key coverage areas.  She is an award-winning member of the Capital Press Corps and has participated in the NPR Kaiser Health News Reporting Partnership and NPR Education Initiative. 

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