A bill that would further limit the use of physical restraints on students with disabilities cleared its final Senate committee Monday.
Sen. Lauren Book’s bill (SB 390) was voted favorably as part of the Senate Appropriations Committee consent agenda and is now able to get a vote from the full Senate.
Book’s bill expands restrictions passed and signed into law last year. That bill limited the use of physical restraints like straitjackets, zip ties, handcuffs or tie downs if doing so would obstruct or restrict breathing or blood flow or place students in a face-down position with the student’s hands behind his or her back.
This year’s bill adds to that by prohibiting the use of mechanical restraints on students with disabilities in all cases, unless done so by a school resource officer, school safety officer, school guardian or school security guard.
The bill has been backed by PTA groups and disability advocates.
“It’s important for kids who have disabilities to not be subjected to mechanical restraints in public schools,” Caitlyn Clibbon, public policy analyst for Disability Rights Florida, said earlier this month. “It’s very traumatic for them, very scary. A lot of times they don’t even understand what’s happening. And these restraints are not necessary.”
According to Senate analysis, school districts reported 2,579 incidents of restraint on 1,853 students between August and December of the current school year. Between 3% and 5% of the incidents involved mechanical restraint.
Book said her bill is about keeping kids safe and giving families peace of mind. Last year, an 8-year-old Tampa special needs student was hit with and restrained by a desk after a teacher pushed it into him as he cried in pain. The incident went unreported, and the parents didn’t find out until a local radio station reported on the incident.
A Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office investigation followed, leading to the arrest of the teacher, Kayla Godwin, and principal, Patrick LaLone. Godwin resigned and LaLone was placed on administrative leave. Both criminal cases are currently open.
A House version of the bill, sponsored by Republican Rep. Rene Plasencia, is also expected to pass with little resistance.