House advances bill regulating seclusion and restraint in schools

Missouri News Network

JEFFERSON CITY — The Missouri House of Representatives gave first approval Tuesday to a long-developing bill spurred in part by a 2019 Columbia Public Schools controversy.

House Bill 387 would prohibit Missouri public and charter schools from using disciplinary practices known as seclusion and restraint, except in situations in which a student poses an imminent threat to themself or to others.

Many instances in which seclusion and restraint techniques are used involve children with educational disabilities, per previous Missourian reporting. The bill aims to define the practices and create statewide regulation of how they can be implemented.

The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Dottie Bailey, R-Eureka, said the legislation aims to prevent school personnel from misusing the practices, which she argued cause disproportionate harm to students with disabilities.

“I think it’s time Missouri gets up to speed,” Bailey said. “Not only are these (practices) archaic, … there are many, many other alternative therapies that have been used that have proven to be adequate, and without hurting the child and hurting their growth and not traumatizing them further.”

The Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education currently requires each school district to adopt a written policy on the use of seclusion and restraint, and DESE has its own model policy recommending the practices be used only in emergency situations.

But school districts have discretion over how to craft their own policies, Bailey said, which can lead to the misuse of seclusion and restraint as more run-of-the-mill disciplinary techniques, rather than as emergency measures.

“This bill goes after a handful of irresponsible bad actors who regularly misuse these rooms and who regularly put kids in these rooms as punishment,” said Rep. Ian Mackey, D-St. Louis, who worked closely with Bailey on the bill. “Up until now, there’s no remedy for that.”

The bill requires that any instance of seclusion or restraint be monitored by school personnel and that parents and guardians be promptly notified when schools have used the measures on their child. The bill also mandates annual trainings for the school personnel who use them.

The legislation’s approval in the House on Tuesday marked another step forward in a long journey to passage that has often centered on Columbia Public Schools.

In 2019, the school district became embroiled in controversy after photos began to circulate on social media of two seclusion rooms in the Center of Responsive Education, a CPS facility used to educate students with disabilities.

District officials argued at the time that the photos were misleading because they were taken while the rooms were still under construction. One member of the Columbia School Board, however, said she received reports that the rooms had been used before they were completed.

Mackey praised the bipartisan process that led to its approval Tuesday.

An almost identical version of the bill, also spearheaded by Bailey and Mackey, was approved in the House last year by a 149-4 vote during a session that was interrupted by the pandemic. It requires one more vote in the House before heading to the Senate.