Legislation sponsored by Senator Kevin O’Toole (R-Bergen, Essex, Morris, Passaic) and Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-Gloucester, Salem, Cumberland) to address concerns regarding the restraint of students with disabilities has passed the New Jersey Senate.
The legislation, S-1163, provides that physical restraint is only used in an emergency in which the student places themselves or others in immediate physical danger. The legislation also places especially stringent restrictions on the use of the “prone restraint” technique, which involves forcing a child’s head down while his or her arms and legs are pinned behind them. Doing so can compress the diaphragm to the point where it could smother, or severely injure a person.
“We cannot let the treatment of students with disabilities devolve into abuse,” Senator O’Toole said. “School employees must uphold their primary responsibility to treat all students with care. If some kind of restraint must be used, the provisions in this legislation will ensure it is done safely.”
“The use of certain restraint techniques could lead to tragedy if the proper precautions aren’t taken,” Senator Sweeney said. “We need to work with schools, doctors and parents to make sure these students are being treated properly.”
The legislation prohibits the use of the prone restraint technique unless it is authorized by the student’s primary care doctor. Further, the bill requires that if physical restraint has been used on a student, the parent or guardians must be notified immediately. A full written report of the incident must also be provided to them within 48 hours of the incident occurring. Any staff involved in the physical restraint of students would be required to receive yearly training. In addition to addressing the use of physical restraint, the bill requires that seclusion of a student with disabilities is only permitted in the case that a student’s physician provides prior written consent, or in an emergency situation. Lastly, the bill provides that whenever physical restraint or seclusion techniques are used, each incident must be visually monitored, documented, and attempts must be made to minimize the use of these measures.
The Department of Education would also be required to publish data from schools on the number of students on which a physical restraint or seclusion technique was used, provide assistance to schools where data indicates a high incidence rate of the use of these techniques, and establish guidelines for schools to review the use of these techniques.