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Restraint and Seclusion Legislation Clears First Hurdle

Aaron Keel

By Aaron Keel, MASB Assistant Director of Government Relations

DashBoard, Sept. 28, 2016

Last week, the House Committee on Education reported a nine-bill package of legislation (House Bills 5409-5418) aimed at overhauling Michigan's laws on the use of seclusion and restraint in schools. The bills are now before the full House of Representatives for its consideration.

The current bipartisan effort pushing these reforms is being led by Lt. Gov. Brian Calley and comes on the heels of his Special Education Reform Task Force. The legislation largely seeks to take the state model policy on seclusion and restraint, which has been available as a voluntary resource for schools since 2006, and make it a mandatory state law affecting the entire school population for both public and private schools.

MASB worked diligently over the summer with the Lieutenant Governor and bill sponsors to eliminate much of the grey area that could arise when teachers and schools are faced with these complicated scenarios. The legislation reported from committee addresses much of the school community’s concerns on issues such as reporting requirements, staff training, the allowable use of seclusion rooms and other technical issues that have been raised since the bills were first introduced in March. MASB is pleased with the work that has been done and supports the package in its current form.

On the surface, the bills would prohibit all forms of seclusion and restraint. However, emergency seclusion and restraint would still be allowed on a very limited basis to protect the dignity and safety of the pupil or others. For example, restraint used to break up/prevent a fight, or to take a weapon from a student as well as in-school suspension or similar disciplinary actions that result in students being kept at school but separated from the general student population, would not be significantly affected by the legislation.

Additionally, rooms that are used for the sole purpose of seclusion would be prohibited, but most other appropriate in-school spaces including staff offices, conference rooms or the teachers' lounge could be options in the event an emergency seclusion is necessary. The goal is to eliminate any stigma that could be associated with the use of seclusion rooms.

The legislation places a strong emphasis on the use of proactive, effective, and evidence- and research-based practices, including Positive Behavior Interventions and Support for all students who establish a pattern of behavior that would lead to emergency seclusion or restraint. PBIS focuses on positive reinforcements instead of disciplinary actions with the goal of curbing the occurrence of a challenging behavior and eliminating the use of seclusion and restraint all together.

The legislation also requires a comprehensive training framework that includes awareness training for all school personnel who have regular contact with pupils and comprehensive training for key identified personnel.

Finally, MDE will be required to develop a state policy on the use of seclusion and restraint that includes all of the elements and definitions outlined in the legislation, as well as guidelines the MDE considers appropriate. School boards will need to adopt and implement a local policy that is consistent with this state policy no later than the beginning of the 2017-2018 school year.

The House is not likely to return for any votes until after the election in November, and they must act on them before the Senate can begin to take a closer look and incorporate their input into the package. Even with the Lieutenant Governor championing this legislation and pressuring the Legislature to act, with the limited number of session days left and the distance they still need to travel before the Governor can sign them, the future of this legislation is uncertain at best. But as we all know, anything is possible during a lame-duck December in Lansing.

If you have any questions or concerns, please contact the MASB Government Relations staff at masbgov@masb.org or 517.327.5900.

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