Politics & Government

House passes bill to limit restraint, isolation of students

New rules would govern how school employees can restrain or isolate special-education students under a bill that passed the state House Monday.

Under House Bill 1240, restraint and isolation could no longer be part of a school’s pre-established plan for responding to misbehavior by a student with a disability. Instead, such methods would be “permitted only when reasonably necessary to control spontaneous behavior that poses an imminent likelihood of serious harm.”

Right now, restraint or isolation may be listed in a special education student’s individualized learning plan as a planned response to outbursts.

During restraint, students may be held down by a school employee, their limbs may be bound together, or they may be tied to an object to restrict their movement. During isolation, students may be placed in an enclosed space under the watch of an adult.

Lawmakers wanting to limit such practices said those kinds of disciplinary measures can make students afraid to come to school.

“Every child in the state of Washington should be able to go to school every day without fear of being harmed,” said Rep. Gerry Pollet, a Seattle Democrat who is the prime sponsor of HB 1240.

Other lawmakers said they worry the legislation would take away school employees’ ability to control their classroom and keep students from harming themselves or others.

“Let’s be honest, some of these children are very large and very strong,” said state Rep. Brad Klippert, R-Kennewick. “I do want to be able to give our teachers the latitude to protect everyone.”

HB 1240 passed the House on a 68-29 vote Monday. The bill, which now goes to the Senate, would also require school districts to report annually to the state how often their employees restrain or isolate students.

Additionally, school districts would need to adopt policies to reduce their use of restraint or isolation.

The legislation follows a 2014 report by National Public Radio and ProPublica that found that students were restrained or placed in isolation 267,000 times nationwide during the 2012 school year.