BISMARCK — Some North Dakota parents on Wednesday, Feb. 6, gave emotional testimony on how their children with disabilities were kept in storage rooms and placed in face-down restraints while in school.
Parents told members of the Senate Education Committee that these incidents have caused their children to fear going to school — one parent even stated that his 13-year-old son now suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder.
Parents, disability advocates and other organizations crowded a room in the state Capitol on Wednesday for a hearing on a bill that would regulate the use of restraint and seclusion in North Dakota schools.
Senate Minority Leader Joan Heckaman, D-New Rockford, is the primary sponsor of Senate Bill 2266. The legislation would require schools adopt restraint and seclusion policies by July 1, 2020.
Members of the Senate Education Committee heard testimony from parents of students with disabilities who act out in school and many times are subject to physical restraints by teachers or placed in seclusion rooms, often referred to as resource or time-out rooms.
Last month, these same lawmakers heard testimony from teachers who were injured by students who act violently, which, at times, are students with disabilities. The committee voted unanimously to give the bill a “do pass” recommendation, and the bill cleared the Senate.
Heckaman brought forth a similar bill in 2017, which failed to pass in the Senate by a margin of 10-36. At the hearing for that bill, several education organizations testified in opposition, stating that many districts already have a policy in place and the bill would require additional training requirements on already strained teachers.
SB2266 includes a $500,000 appropriation to be used to train school district personnel on the district restraint and seclusion policy.
“Schools are doing the best they can with the funds available, but today, as legislators we need to provide the funding, the staffing and the space to provide an education to all students,” she said.
Heckaman said the bill includes “universal definitions for all districts to use in their policies,” including definitions of chemical, mechanical and physical restraint. It also would require incidents of restraint and seclusion being documented and reported to the North Dakota Department of Public Instruction and the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights.
Victoria Johnson was one parent who spoke in favor of the bill.
Johnson told lawmakers her 11-year-old son, who has autism, was placed in a “prone restraint” last year that lasted 26 minutes. The U.S. Department of Education warns that prone, or lying face-down, restraints can restrict breathing and should not be used.
Johnson said she was not contacted by the school district, but instead learned of the incident from her son. She also said the district has a policy prohibiting prone restraints.
“My son is still traumatized from that,” she said, tearfully. “There are times my son will sleep under the bed, because he’s scared.”
Terry Hamilton, of Fargo, said his 13-year-old son was placed in a prone restraint during middle school three times, two times exceeding 10 minutes.
The last time was in October, he said. They’ve since moved him to another school because of his son’s “fear and PTSD,” which grew to the point to where he didn’t want to attend school. Tanner, who also testified, cried about the experiences.
“Although I’m autistic, I am human,” he said.