Washington State House Democrats


Washington Legislature Passes Bill Ending Use of Isolation and Restraint of Special Education Students

Washington Legislature Passes Bill Ending Use of Isolation and Restraint of Special Education Students

150 deaths nationwide per year from use of restraints on students

OLYMPIA – The support of parents and advocates for people with disabilities played a key role in passing House Bill 1240 out of the legislature today. The bill, sponsored by Rep. Gerry Pollet will put an end to the planned use of restraint and isolation techniques in school.

“This bill makes sure that treating people with respect and dignity doesn’t end when a child walks through the doors of their school,” said Pollet. “Schools should create an environment where students can learn without fear of having their behavior corrected with the use of restraints and isolation. This bill prohibits the use of these tactics and promotes the use of positive interventions which are proven to be effective.”

An individualized education plan should never include the expectation that a school will physically restrain a student. The unfortunate reality is that thousands of students in Washington do have special education plans that regularly incorporate the use of physical restraints, which can include teachers laying on top of students, physical restraining devices, chokeholds, and isolation rooms.

This bill ends the planned use of restraint and isolation as a part of the individualized education plans created for students with special needs. Additionally, the bill extends the prohibition against restraint and isolation to all students, except in very limited circumstances where spontaneous behavior creates an imminent risk of harm.

Recent information reveals that restraints and seclusion in schools pose a significant risk of injury, and even death, to children. A Harvard study estimates that school restraints cause up to 150 deaths each year. Even when physical injury does not result, restraint and isolation, especially over a period of time, are detrimental to a student’s mental well-being, behavior and educational outcomes. Parents testified to the legislature that their children became afraid to go to school, and some developed Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Research shows that positive interventions are more effective at improving behavior than using restraint and isolation.

One Washington school district used restraints and isolation over 1,800 times last year. Another similar-sized district with a similar student population trained its staff to use alternative methods to calm students. That district reduced use of isolation or restraint to one-fifth of the number of times compared to the other district which used isolation and restraint over 300 times a month.

“This legislation will provide our students with better educational and emotional outcomes,” Pollet said. “The bill’s success comes after months of hard work around the clock from tireless advocates for children including parents of kids with special needs, educators, Childrens’ Hospital Autism Center, and school administrators. I am grateful to have worked with such dedicated people”

The bill got the final stamp of legislative approval today on a 71-27 House vote after passing the Senate 48-0. The bill now heads to the Governor’s desk for his signature.