Senate endorses new restrictions against restraints on students

    Sad child with tears on his cheeks looking downward
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    Students would get stronger protections from the use of seclusion or restraint under legislation that passed the state Senate on Tuesday.

    The bipartisan bill, SB-527, passed on a unanimous voice vote and builds on legislation passed in 2012 that became Act 125

    While the earlier law placed limits on the use of seclusion or restraint to deal with children whose behavior was deemed potentially harmful or disruptive, the new bill strengthens those limits. 

    The bill, authored by Sen. Luther Olsen (R-Ripon) and Sen. LaTonya Johnson (D-Milwaukee), requires that when seclusion rooms are used, they cannot have a lock on the door. It also bans prone restraints on school children, which “are potentially lethal,” according to Jeff Spitzer-Resnick, an attorney who gave testimony in favor of the bill at a legislative public hearing in November.

    The new bill expands required training, improves training technique, adds police officers to the list of people who the earlier law required to meet notice and reporting requirements. It is backed by Disability Rights Wisconsin, the National Alliance on Mental Illness Wisconsin and other advocacy groups. Although school administration representatives raised questions on cost and time needed to meet the requirements, in the end, they registered as neutral on the bill.

    It also expands reporting and debriefing requirements when restraint and seclusion techniques are used with children. It requires school principals to meet with people, such as teachers, who participated in restraint or seclusion of children, and to discuss in detail the events surrounding the incident. The bill also expands and strengthens several of the earlier law’s reporting requirements.

    “Taken together, the provisions in SB 527 will hopefully reduce the use of seclusion and restraint, make its use safer when it is used, and provide greater transparency to the public about its use,” Spitzer-Resnick testified in November, urging passage of the new law. 

    “This transparency will not only help parents make better decisions about where to send their children to school, but it will provide opportunities for school districts and DPI to identify areas where schools are struggling by overusing these aversive techniques and can learn from schools who have successfully learned how to use PBIS instead of seclusion and restraint.”

    The bill was sent to the Assembly after passing the Senate on Tuesday.

    Erik Gunn
    Senior Reporter Erik Gunn reports and writes on work and the economy, along with related subjects, for the Wisconsin Examiner. He spent 24 years as a freelance writer for Milwaukee Magazine, Isthmus, The Progressive, BNA Inc., and other publications, winning awards for investigative reporting, feature writing, beat coverage, business writing, and commentary. An East Coast native, he previously covered labor for The Milwaukee Journal after reporting for newspapers in upstate New York and northern Illinois. He's a graduate of Beloit College (English Comp.) and the Columbia School of Journalism. Off hours he is the Examiner's resident Springsteen and Jackson Browne fanboy and model railroad nerd.