Use of Restraints and Seclusion (H.409) - April 12, 2023

On Wednesday, the House Education Committee took up H.409 with Rachel Seelig (DLP Director, Vermont Legal Aid) who shared in her presentation that she “represented or advised around six hundred students with disabilities and their parents on education law issues. Approximately 15% of these cases have some element involving improper or illegal use of restraint and seclusion on students with disabilities.” She believes that the nature of using restraints is “re-traumatization” of these students.

Right now, Seelig feels the use of mechanical or prone restraints should never be allowed. It is terrifying and traumatizing. She believes the only program plans allowing the use of restraints should be limited to those familiar with the student and should only be allowed in rare circumstances.

Law Enforcement was central to one very shocking incident she relayed. Unlike school staff, the rule 4500 series rules do not currently regulate behavior of law enforcement in schools or on school grounds. Furthermore, outside persons with broader authority to use mechanical or prone restraints makes situations more traumatic, she claimed.

Seelig gave an example of a kindergartener who had a past history of witnessing domestic violence and homelessness. Restraints and seclusion were repeatedly used; to the point that her parents pulled her out of school to stop it.

She closed by saying that “given the lack of evidence to support these practices, and the serious risk of harm, our recommendation is that H.409 be amended to fully prohibit all forms of restraint and seclusion.” She also gave a list of recommendations to improve the bill if they weren’t going to move towards prohibiting all forms of restraint.

Representative Austin asked for a clarification between the use of restraints and seclusion for discipline versus safety. Seelig responded that, in practice, either is traumatic for the child and that best practice in instead to de-escalate.

Chairman Conlon closed the discussion by saying that H.409 is “unlikely to move quickly, even from this committee.” He pointed to the need to have a significant amount to review and “folks to hear from.”

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