Gov. Ron DeSantis has signed a bill rewriting how schools can restrain students with disabilities, an attempt to protect students’ safety.
Some students have suffered bone fractures and bleeding, and others have even died under current restraining practices, says the bill’s sponsor, House Democratic Co-Leader Bobby DuBose. To avoid harm, the measure (HB 149) revises requirements for the use of seclusion and restraint as punishments for a student with disabilities.
Physical restraint of a student would be allowed only if needed to protect students or school personnel, but not as a disciplinary measure, and a student could be restrained only long enough to protect the student and others and only after all other options have been exhausted.
DuBose and Senate Minority Leader Lauren Book unsuccessfully worked together on similar versions of the legislation in years past. With the Governor’s signature on Monday, they brought it over the finish line.
“This law ends the dangerous practice of seclusion and unsafe restraint in Florida special education classrooms,” Book said.
“Students deserve to be safe at school, and parents deserve peace of mind. While the majority of our special education school professionals provide caring and safe learning environments for students with disabilities, we have unfortunately seen serious abuses committed as well.”
The bill defines seclusion as “the involuntary confinement of a student in a room or area alone and preventing the student from leaving the room or area.” The bill said a time out is not included in seclusion.
The measure defines physical restraint as “the use of manual restraint techniques that involve significant physical force applied by a teacher or other staff member to restrict the movement of all or part of a student’s body. The term does not include briefly holding a student in order to calm or comfort the student or physically escorting a student to a safe location.”
Additionally, it specifically prohibits any physical techniques that would inflict pain and the use of straitjackets, zip ties, handcuffs, or tie-downs if they’re used in a way that obstructs breathing or blood flow or that places a student facedown with their hands behind their back.
As an alternative to restraint and seclusion, the bill directs schools to adopt policies and procedures related to positive behavior interventions and support. The bill requires school districts to develop a crisis intervention plan for a student who is restrained more than once during a semester.
There are transparency elements to the bill as well, including a new video monitoring program in special education classrooms.
The bill requires the Department of Education to publish anonymous restraint incident data on its website each month, and the bill creates a pilot program for the video cameras.
The video monitoring program would roll out in Volusia and Broward counties. Under the program, at the written request of a parent, the school districts must install a video camera in special education classes to record the classroom. The video is required to show the entire classroom, including entrances and exits, but not restrooms.
The bill provides circumstances under which the video recording may be viewed and requires anyone who views the video to report suspected child abuse to the Department of Children and Families.
With DeSantis’ signature, the law will take effect July 1.