Legislation advances in Senate and the House to further limit use of physical restraints at school

Last year's legislation allowed for the use of restraints on students if that use didn't restrict airflow or put students in a facedown position.

An update to last year’s law that banned seclusion and limited the use of restraints to discipline students with disabilities received unanimous approval in both House and Senate committees Tuesday morning.

Republican Rep. Rene Plasencia, a former Orlando teacher, sponsored the legislation (HB 235) that outright bans school personnel from using a “mechanical restraint” on students, except if they are school resource officers, school safety officers, school guardians or security guards. The bill is now heading to a full House vote.

Senate Democratic Leader Lauren Book sponsored an identical bill (SB 390) that also won unanimous approval in the Senate Education Committee Tuesday afternoon.

A law passed last year had banned the use of restraints only if the devices, such as straitjackets, zip ties, handcuffs or tie downs, obstructed or restricted breathing or blood flow or placed students in a face-down position with the student’s hands behind his or her back.

This year’s legislation takes that language out and limits restraint use to “authorized personnel” and only for students in grades 6 through 12.

The bills adds the words “physical” and “must” to the current law’s wording, so it reads, “Physical restraint may be used only when there is an imminent risk of serious injury and must be discontinued as soon as the threat posed by the dangerous behavior has dissipated.”

Caitlyn Clibbon, public policy analyst for Disability Rights Florida, said the use of physical restraints is still happening in nine Florida school districts.

“That means 59 districts have figured out how to safely educate students,” she said.

Plasencia told Florida Politics his home district is one of those still using the physical restraint devices.

“It took us 12 years to pass the last bill and last summer we found out there was a carve-out for mechanical restraints,” Plasencia said. “There aren’t a lot of school districts that utilize this anymore, and there’s really no need for it.”

Book said the time has come to change this. “This is about keeping kids safe and giving families peace of mind.”

Anne Geggis

Anne Geggis is a South Florida journalist who began her career in Vermont and has worked at the Sun-Sentinel, the Daytona Beach News-Journal and the Gainesville Sun covering government issues, health and education. She was a member of the Sun-Sentinel team that won the 2019 Pulitzer Prize for coverage of the Parkland high school shooting. You can reach her on Twitter @AnneBoca or by emailing [email protected].


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