Lost in the hundreds of bills passed during the lame duck period of the final week of the legislature, was a Restraint and Seclusion bill that not only strips students with disabilities of their civil rights, but now legislates their continued physical and emotional abuse.
Some will say, this new law is better than nothing. I could not disagree more. As an advocate for students with disabilities, it is my unwavering belief that every student should be educated with dignity within a safe and positive learning environment. Restraint should be viewed as an option of last resort to be used in cases of emergency only. It should not be elevated, via regulation, to a legally acceptable practice.
Over the years, I have been involved in more than a hundred cases of restraint and seclusion. Most of the students involved were between the ages of 3 and 10. In every case, the restraint/seclusion occurred as a result of the failure of the student’s school district to conduct the legally required evaluations and develop an appropriate program. In nearly every case, the abusive practices of restraint and seclusion led to diagnoses of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and physical injury.
New Jersey, once again, is moving in the wrong direction. While most other states are working toward outlawing prone restraint (most likely to cause death or injury) and seclusion, we here in NJ have worked hard to legitimize these harmful practices. Rather than focusing on positive behavior supports and interventions, we have placed our most vulnerable students in harm’s way while greatly restricting parental rights in the process.
Renay Zamloot is a Non-Attorney Education Advocate based in Annandale, New Jersey.