BOISE, Idaho — Idaho schools will no longer be permitted to use restraint and seclusion as forms of discipline.
Gov. Brad Little has signed a bill that bars teachers and school staff from using the aversive techniques as forms of discipline and corporal punishment. Restraint, a practice that reduces students’ ability to move, and seclusion, which involuntarily places children in isolation, can now only be used if a student or staff member is in imminent danger.
The bill followed an Idaho Statesman investigation into schools’ practices around restraint and seclusion last year. Families told the Statesman their children returned home from school with physical injuries and long-lasting trauma. More than a decade ago, efforts to change the state law went nowhere.
“Idaho schools are places of learning, not punishment,” Madison Hardy, Little’s spokesperson, wrote to the Statesman. “Having clear policies and procedures around restraint and seclusion for our school districts will make sure all Idaho kids are getting the right attention they need and ensure our school districts know the correct steps to take in these difficult situations.”
Parents and advocates across Idaho pleaded with lawmakers to pass legislation governing the use of restraint and seclusion in schools. One parent told lawmakers she picked up her son from school and found bruises across his body. Another choked up as she shared that her child slept on the floor next to her bed for a year after being put in the seclusion room in his classroom.
A former second grade teacher, Charmaine Thaner, said she once restrained a child and vividly remembers the terror in their eyes as she held them. Years later, she learned she could have taken other actions.
“I lived it, I know this, I know what it feels like,” she said, “and I regret every single minute to this day.”
The bill was held up earlier this month over concerns that it applied to private schools. The language was removed and the bill amended to only include public and charter schools.
In a statement after the bill’s passage, Superintendent Debbie Critchfield said it will benefit students and teachers across Idaho. The new law takes effect July 1.
“The passage of this bill positions Idaho as a national leader in this area,” she said in a statement to the Statesman. “This bill will save our kids from unnecessary trauma and help guide our teachers to the best strategies in the classroom.”
Idaho law requires training, district policies
The new law defines corporal punishment, physical, mechanical and chemical restraint and seclusion. It bars chemical restraint from being used in school and allows the use of other types of restraint and seclusion in situations only when a student or staff member is in imminent danger of serious bodily harm.
“(What) we didn’t want happening was a kid … tells a teacher off, then all of a sudden, she puts him in a closet, which is happening in Idaho,” Rep. Marco Erickson, an Idaho Falls Republican who sponsored the bill, previously told the Statesman. “It’s happening way more often than we would like.”
The law also directs the State Department of Education to prepare resources and training for school districts and requires that all staff who work with students receive annual professional development training in positive behavior supports and deescalation. Those who work with students who “demonstrate aggressive or dangerous behaviors” will receive training in crisis management, deescalation and the correct use of restraint and seclusion when necessary.
Under the bill, all public school districts must have a policy that defines restraint and seclusion, includes guidance for when the practices can be used and lays out how incidents will be reported. The policies must also have requirements to periodically review instances of restraint and seclusion.
Last fall, following the Statesman investigation, the Department of Education sent out a survey to school districts and charter schools about their use of the techniques. The survey found more than one-third of districts didn’t have a policy in place on the use of restraint and seclusion in the classroom. About one-fourth of them didn’t have a system for reporting instances of restraint and seclusion.
Holly Giglio, a parent whose son was restrained, previously told the Statesman the timing of the legislation was “cathartic.” It was introduced on the 11th anniversary of when her son, Jake, came home from school with bruises on his body. A police report with witness statements from school showed that he had been restrained.
“People do not go into education so they can hurt children. However, the data shows that is exactly what is happening with restraint and seclusion,” she told the Statesman in a text. “I believe this bill is the start of some very important conversations and hopefully positive changes in education.”