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DeSantis Signs Bipartisan Legislation Affecting Children With Disabilities

A drawing of a child peering through a window into a classroom setting with students and a teacher.
LA Johnson
Schools in Florida must end the practice of confining students with disabilities to a room by themselves, also known as seclusion, when a new state law takes effect on July 1.

Schools across Florida must soon follow stricter guidelines when it comes to restraining students with cognitive, developmental and behavioral disabilities.

Governor Ron DeSantis signed Monday a bipartisan bill that will prohibit staff from forcing K-12 students who have disabilities to isolate in a room, a practice known as seclusion. Under the measure, school staff must try to use positive behavior interventions before restraining a student who's a danger to themselves or others. It will also require video monitoring in classrooms with students who have disabilities upon receiving a written request from a student or parent.

"Students deserve to be safe at school, and parents deserve peace of mind, State Senate Minority Leader Lauren Book wrote in a statement after the bill was enacted. "While the majority of our special education school professionals provide caring and safe learning environments for students with disabilities, we have unfortunately seen serious abuses committed as well.”

Book sponsored the bill, which also prohibits school staff from placing students face down while restraining them with handcuffs or zip ties. Restraints, which could also include straitjackets and tie-downs, must also not cut off blood or oxygen flow.

The new law takes effect July 1.

Between 2010 and 2020, schools across the state reported nearly 87,000 instances of restraint and over 21,000 instances of seclusion, according to a legislative analysis.

The bill was among 44 the governor signed Monday evening.

Another recently enacted bipartisan bill allows for higher payments to parents of infants born with a brain injury through the Neurological Injury Compensation Association. It also takes effect July 1.

In a post-session interview with WFSU News, Book said the passage of both proposals was among several Democratic victories this session.

“Democrats were able to work across the aisle in a completely Republican-controlled legislature to get some really great pieces of policy passed: reforms to the child welfare system, to prohibit the use of seclusion and restraint in unsafe ways in special education classrooms, to protect cyclists, reforms to the Neurological Injury Compensation Association for brain-damaged newborns."

Valerie Crowder hosts and produces state and local newscasts during All Things Considered. Her reporting on local government and politics has received state and regional award recognition. She has also contributed stories to NPR newscasts.