Bill would make schools report on use of restraints

Stonier wants parents to hear of isolation tactics

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OLYMPIA -- Schools could be required to tell parents when a teacher isolates or restrains their children, if a proposal by state Rep. Monica Stonier, D-Vancouver, passes out of the House of Representatives by Wednesday's bill deadline.

That proposal, House Bill 1688, defines what it means to isolate or restrain an uncontrollable student, and requires principals or other administrators to call the parents of the isolated student no later than 24 hours after the incident, or to notify them by mail no later than five days after the isolation or restraint.

Student isolation was a topic of talk late last year, when an elementary school in Longview took heat for using a closet-size, padded isolation booth.

At that time, Clark County school representatives said a number of local schools have similar spaces to restrict and calm aggressive behavior in students with special needs who may be a danger to themselves or others. All Clark County districts reported that the rooms are used as a last resort and never for discipline.

Stonier says most schools already have a policy in place similar to what her bill would create. However, she said, when districts don't have a policy, it creates problems for disabled students.

The bill defines restraint as "using force to control a student" for longer than two minutes, and includes the use of restraining devices such as handcuffs. Isolation is defined by the bill as "excluding a student from his or her regular learning environment" and confining them in an enclosure they cannot leave.

The bill recognizes both activities as a last resort for teachers or administrators.

Though the bill does not single out disabled students, Stonier said she did not know of a case when an isolation room was used by a nondisabled student.

Stonier said the bill would not apply to teachers' removing a student from a classroom to have a discussion in the hall, or similar situations, but only when a student is placed in an area and not allowed to leave.

She said she brought the bill forward as both a teacher and a parent.

"I don't want to tie my own hands, or the hands of fellow teachers; I just want parents to be notified," Stonier said. "In my experience, children with special needs are taught to self-select to go into a room to get some downtime."

The bill is co-sponsored by Rep. Liz Pike, R-Camas.

"I'm a supporter of this bill because it's about communication between teachers and parents," Pike said. "As a parent myself, I would want to know if that happened."

Stonier said she expects the bill to pass in the House, which has a Democratic majority, but she expressed concern that the bill was in danger of missing an upcoming deadline in the Legislature. Wednesday is the last day non-budgetary bills can pass out the chambers they were introduced in.