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Florida schools districts will soon be prohibited from using seclusion and isolation techniques on students — a traumatizing experience particularly for students with disabilities.
Gov. Ron DeSantis signed legislation into law this week to ban the techniques, starting July 1.
The measure prohibits school personnel from using seclusion, defined by the legislation as “involuntary confinement of a student in a room or area alone and preventing the student from leaving the room or area.”
The bill signed into law also defines when school personnel can use restraints, such as zip ties, handcuffs and straitjackets on a student, stating that: “Restraint may be used only when there is an imminent risk of serious injury and shall be discontinued as soon as the threat posed by the dangerous behavior has dissipated.”
The legislative language specifies that restraints can only be used when all other intervention methods have been exhausted. The restraints may not restrict blood flow or breathing, and cannot be used to inflict pain to induce compliance.
Rep. Bobby DuBose, a Democrat who represents part of Broward County and serves as Democratic Leader of the House, said he was pleased that the bill was signed into law and notes that students with disabilities are more likely to be subjected to these techniques. DuBose was the sponsor of the bill.
“This law is long overdue here in the state of Florida. Children with disabilities are among the most vulnerable members of our society and schools should always be a safe environment where our kids can learn and feel protected,” DuBose said in the a written statement.
He tried unsuccessfully for several years to get the measure through — in fact, the legislation predates DuBose’s time in the Florida Legislature.
The 2021 legislative analysis found 21,489 reported instances of seclusion used on students from the 2020-11 to 2019-20 school years. In addition, 86,969 reported instances of restraints were used on students in that same time period.
The legislation signed into law calls on schools to develop crisis intervention plans for students who are restrained more than once a semester. The crisis intervention plan would be developed by a team that includes the student’s parent or guardian, school personnel, and physical and behavioral health professionals.
The law launches a pilot program that allows parents to request that a camera be placed in their student’s classroom.
In a Wednesday press release, DuBose called for similar measures at the federal level to ensure that more injury and pain do not come to other families.
“Although parents in Florida can finally breathe a sigh of relief, this is still a widespread issue across the country that needs to be tackled at the federal level,” DuBose said in the written statement.
The press release refers to the death of Xavier Hernandez, a 21-year-old autistic man from Texas who died shortly after being restrained by school personnel earlier this year. Medical examiners have not yet declared a cause of death, but some are concerned that improper restraining techniques were used, according to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.
“My heart breaks for the family of Xavier Hernandez and others who’ve suffered tremendous loss from improper and unnecessary restraint techniques,” DuBose said in the press release.
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