Reintroduction of the Keeping All Students Safe Act

Washington DC (5/26/2021) – Today the Keeping All Students Safe Act (KASSA) will be re-introduced. in both houses of congress. We sincerely thank Representatives Beyer, McEachin, Chairman Scott, Senator Murphy, and Chair Murray, for supporting this critical legislation.

Endorsement Letter

Hello, my name is Guy Stephens. I am the founder and executive director of the Alliance Against Seclusion and Restraint (AASR). AASR is a community of over 13,000 parents, self-advocates, teachers, school administrators, attorneys, related professionals, and others working together to influence change in the way we support children with behavioral challenges. The mission of AASR is to educate the public and to connect people who are dedicated to changing minds, laws, policies, and practices so that restraint, seclusion, and other abusive practices are eliminated from schools across the nation. I am writing to you today to support the Keeping All Students Safe Act (KASSA). We are excited to endorse the legislation when it is reintroduced.  

Unfortunately, many children are traumatized, injured, and even killed in schools designed to help them, including public and private schools. Most children that are restrained and secluded are children with disabilities.  Black, Brown, and very young children are also disproportionately restrained and secluded, a true civil rights crisis. However, this is not a new problem. In 2009 the Government Accountability Office (GAO) issued a report titled “Selected Cases of Death and Abuse at Public and Private Schools and Treatment Centers”. The report concluded that there were no federal laws restricting the use of seclusion and restraints in public and private schools and widely divergent laws at the state level. GAO found hundreds of cases of alleged abuse and death related to the use of these methods on children during the prior two decades. Today over a decade later, children continue to be traumatized, injured and even killed.  

Restraint and seclusion are dangerous and can lead to significant trauma and injuries to students, teachers, and staff. Trauma is important for several reasons. Many children who are being restrained and/or secluded already have a trauma history, and the use of restraint and seclusion is itself traumatic. Children that have been traumatized may not feel safe and may enter a hypervigilant state. This can lead to distress behaviors when the child becomes overwhelmed or triggered. When demands are placed on the child that they are unable to meet the situation may escalate. This may lead to fight, flight, or freeze behavior, which may lead to a cycle of restraint and seclusion. The resulting traumatic stress can be associated with lasting changes in these brain areas and lead to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). 

There are far better ways to work with children and avoid the need for crisis management. Our schools should be moving towards neurodevelopmentally informed, trauma-sensitive, biologically respectful, relationship-based ways of understanding, and supporting all children. Unfortunately, schools, left to their own devices have in many cases continued to mistreat children within their charge. Without data and oversight, children continue to pay the price. The Keeping All Students Safe Act is needed to protect children across the nation from these dangerous and abusive practices. 

We think it is critical that it be illegal for any school to seclude children and use dangerous restraint practices that restrict children’s breathing, such as prone or supine restraint.  We think it is important to better equip school personnel with the training they need to address trauma and stress behaviors.  We also think that it is important for parents to have a right to take legal action when unlawful restraint or seclusion occurs. KASSA is a strong step towards protecting the civil and human rights of all students.

I am attaching a document with quotes from a few members of our community. Feel free to use these to support the re-introduction of KASSA. Additionally, we have a network of parents, self-advocates, teachers, school administrators, attorneys, related professionals, and others who would be willing to testify in support of the legislation. Let me know if there is anything we can do to help.

Quotes in support of the Keeping All Students Safe Act

“The restraint and seclusion abuse my son experienced at the public elementary school has left permanent and irreversible damage.  He suffers from anxiety and has been diagnosed with P.T.S.D.  Our entire family has been suffering as a result of this barbaric and inhumane practice.”

Tracy Bono (Missouri)

During my childhood, I felt abused while being physically restrained in a quiet room with an adult present a few times at two different schools, and I feel traumatized by what I have experienced. Restraints and quiet rooms have the worst negative impact on my life as a child and, thus, should be permanently banned from schools. I just want my story to inspire and encourage others to break that stigma and share their stories as well.

Jennifer (Mina) Han (New York)

“The use of seclusion and restraint has turned my “sweetheart” who would never hurt anyone into an aggressive, destructive child with permanent life-long trauma to manage. My son has gone from spending 99% of his day in the regular education room to not even attending school. The emotional, physical, and psychological damage this causes children amounts to abuse and neglect!”

Amber McGinley (Wisconsin)

“If a parent slammed a child on the ground and held them there for 20 minutes, leaving bruises and scratches, it would be considered abuse. How come it is not considered abuse when a teacher does it? Does a child with a disability have the same rights as any other child in the school system, to not be abused and  not to be treated in a barbaric fashion? The answer is NO! This must be changed.”

Kathleen Chojnowski (Washington)

“The use of isolation and restraint on my son has impacted every aspect of our lives. He now has PTSD and trusts no one but me, his mother. His physical body has been impacted in a way that will endanger his life as he grows. He had to do a 3 day colon study that is compared to the same pain as childbirth. It determined that the trauma he endured at school caused behaviors that will eventually lead to having a colostomy placed. My son was restrained and isolated to the point we cannot drive by a school, we cannot talk about school, we cannot talk about his brother going to school. The district accepted funds and committed fraud with those funds. The state is aware and the law is not being followed. Our district continues to use isolation and restraints inappropriately. Days before the pandemic caused schools to close a child was locked in the isolation room for 4 hours and 32 minutes. This must stop. This is abuse to the most vulnerable population who cannot speak for themselves. We were unaware of the use of restraints, we only found out he was being restrained because he came home with bruises in the shape of adult handprints. We trusted what we thought were professionals to educate our son. They did not educate him, they caused harm that will forever impact our lives.”

Cara Bailey (Washington)

“I was restrained everyday while I attended school. It left me dazed and confused because I didn’t know what I did wrong. It was traumatizing and I remember coming off the bus crying and showing my Mom my bruises and abrasions. No child should go through what I went through.”

Sam Maloney (New York)

“My son was restrained multiple times by his principal at age 6. Shortly after, he was diagnosed with PTSD and anxiety. He has had to have additional therapy and medication due to the restraint incidents. Three years later, he still fears adults he isn’t familiar with and cannot drive past his prior school without being triggered.”

Kelli Giglio (Indiana)

“Restraint and seclusion did not just impact me while it happened. It has caused years of battling with PTSD that will probably last a lifetime. We must pass KASSA to keep students, teachers, and families safer.”

Alexander J. Campbell (Virginia)

“The worst part of restraints and seclusions is when you go to hug them and they cower down in fear you might pin them to the ground or lock them in a room.”

Kelli Snyder (Texas)

“The use of isolation and restraints has resulted in devastating social, emotional, and financial consequences to my family.  My son was physically harmed in a system where he should have felt safe to acquire a free and appropriate education that supported his disabilities. Instead, we were in a system that used restraints and isolation in the early stages of his learning and brain development causing long term sustained trauma. We have spent years rebuilding trust and healing from the trauma inflicted by the actions of a school system that refused to follow IEP planning or engage in collaborative work to create a productive learning environment supporting the specific needs of individual children.”

Sarah McPartland (Washington)

“The impact of school trauma is triggered daily; not just the child but also the family. All this harm can be mitigated through the science of neuroception. Education yourself – a child may live to thank you one day.”

Teresa Olafson (North Dakota)

“My autistic son was so traumatized by the use of restraint and seclusion that he was afraid to return to school.  This should have never happened to my son, and it should not be allowed to happen to so many others. We must stop these barbaric practices.  We can and must do better for students, teachers and staff.”

Guy Stephens (Maryland)

“Starting at age 5, our nonspeaking, high support needs, autistic son was subjected over 7 years to at least 745 incidents of restraint and seclusion. If we’d not intervened and removed him from a school that uses seclusion, I wonder how many more times he’d have spent alone, terrified, and screaming in a seclusion cell before it stopped? At age 15, he cannot sleep alone, has nightmares, cannot be alone in any room, and is terrified of closed doors. He started school with an autism diagnosis and seclusion added PTSD to his struggles. Autism isn’t a crime, yet my son was treated like a criminal. He deserved better. How many more young lives must be destroyed before we end this?”

Jennifer Litton Tidd (Virginia)

“They (restraint and seclusion) must be stopped. No one deserves to be put in a room for hours and hurt because they didn’t do a worksheet.”

Jamie Ridgway (Illinois)

“They told us that secluding him would help him learn.  But what did he learn? That he has a disability and is being punished for it. My son is scared of going to school. Restraining him makes him anxious and worried and escalates problem behavior. Anxiety going to school was so bad that my son says that COVID saved him”

Micky Marinelli (Texas)

“Continuing to allow seclusion and restraints is continuing to allow my son to believe there is no justice for the behavior of adults. His personhood, his spirit, and his physical being are attacked daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly. Until this is outlawed, the lack of  proper supports and training will continue. A person can die, spiritually. I know because I have watched my son dying slowly for the past 4 years. He has been injured, harmed, and abused. Please believe in our children as much as we do.” 

Angelita Hunter (Texas)

“I think seclusion and restraint are  inhumane and should never be done to anyone else.”

Cooper Stephens (Maryland)

“I am the mother of a child who needs a different learning environment to thrive. My son was secluded multiple times while in public school and restrained a handful of times. He was traumatized and didn’t want to return to school. We are fortunate, our child only suffered trauma others have died as a result of the use of seclusion and restraint. No child should feel unsafe at school. We need to change and work collaboratively with children instead of locking them in rooms.”

Nicole Farjani (New Jersey)

“As a Paraprofessional I witnessed restraint and seclusion used repeatedly for 3 years in a public school I was assigned to. Some of the children were as young as 5 years old. Sometimes the students were put into seclusion for breaking a pencil or tearing up their work. They would scream for help and scratch and kick the walls. I can still hear their screams for help two years after leaving the district. They were locked in to the small, windowless, padded closets alone. The majority of the children secluded and restrained were black and brown boys. I will never stop advocating for this horrible practice to end. It’s abuse within the school walls that is unregulated and in so many cases undocumented.”

Nicole Farjani (New Jersey)

“Restraint and Seclusion has affected my son deeply. He is nine years old and was repeatedly restrained and secluded in kindergarten and first grade. He said, ‘Seclusion did damage to me but it also did damage to the teachers because my anger increased when they put me in there and I have bad feelings toward them.’ As a parent, I can tell you that my son no longer trusts adults and is not able to attend school (he’s in third grade) for the foreseeable future due to his fear of being restrained/secluded again.”

Christina Keller (Ohio)

“I am the mother of a child who needs a different learning environment to thrive. My son was secluded multiple times while in public school and restrained a handful of times. He was traumatized and didn’t want to return to school.  We are fortunate, our child only suffered trauma others have died as a result of the use of seclusion and restraint. No child should feel unsafe at school. We need to change and work collaboratively with children instead of locking them in rooms.” 

Lisa Stephens (Maryland)

“My 7 year old was illegally secluded and restrained for 2 years at her school. She experienced trauma after surviving Hurricane Florence and developed intense phobias to weather events. When she was afraid to walk outside for PE because it was windy or cloudy, they chose to restrain her and carry her to PE. This violated NC state law as my child was NOT a danger to herself or others. She was afraid, and because her fear was inconvenient for staff, they chose to restrain and seclude her, traumatizing her further. The school also refused to evaluate her for an IEP when I requested, violating Child Find. This school restrained and secluded a tiny 7 year old child because they were afraid of wind and clouds and then violated her civil rights by refusing to evaluate for and implement an IEP. Now my child is at a new school, with an IEP/supports in place, and we are having to undo the damage caused. School should be a safe place for all students and not a place that children fear!”

Sandy E. (North Carolina)

“I am a parent to a child who was repeatedly restrained and secluded in ways that did not follow proper policy, and he was denied positive behavioral supports, denied timely special education services. Restraints and seclusion left our child traumatized – feeling worthless, embarrassed, ashamed, fearful of school staff. If emotional/behavioral needs are unmet- academics can not be successful.”

Lauren Bricker (Texas)

“To this day, I have cPTSD, not simply from my familial relationships but from the violence I experienced in a “special school”.  I was a young teenager, yet (the person who I will not name) used choke holds, throwing me to the ground. At one point I sustained a broken rib; I hid it from my parents because that would only bring on more violence and blame. I spent up to five hours in a ‘quiet room,’ in the dark, padded walls, treating me like a common criminal. I am almost sixty years old; I have night terrors related to the use of restraint and seclusion. I was born with a congenital defect of the brain.  That kind of seclusion was terrifying and violent to me. To this very day, if I am in a small room, I’m the only one; I regress to those days. As an adult today, I am subject to be manipulated by authority (or assumed authority) figures.  I still have such naivete I am easily convinced to do things that are harmful, because I do not want to go back in there. I saw a photo of a room like I was left in, and immediately went into severe panic. I am likely to experience this for the rest of my life.”

Joseph Galbraith (Tennessee)

“My daughter was restrained and put into seclusion repeatedly in 3rd and 4th grade. She felt the teachers wanted to kill her and that she would never see her parents again. She wanted to break through the wall of the closet she was in where they were holding the door shut from the outside. That was when she started contemplating suicide. I only started to understand what was happening when another parent happened to witness and video her being restrained. Most of these children are disabled and cannot communicate what has happened. Stricter limits, guidelines, and reporting to parents and the US Dept of Ed are necessary to protect our children. Teachers need to be educated in the developmental neuroscience of children that has been discovered in the last 15 years. There are safer options for students and teachers.”

Anonymous (North Carolina)

“I am a solo parent who has a child that has been restrained and secluded over 160 times in a Maryland school. As a result, my son has suffered traumatic experiences that he will likely never forget; and he may never be able to adjust to any school setting. My professional career and finances have been thoroughly impacted by trying to keep my son safe from the abusers that were supposed to provide him with a safe learning environment.”  

KDC (Maryland)

“Due to the use of isolation and restraints within a school setting, I have loss my career as an educator, medical and dental insurance, my ability to contribute to my retirement for future financial security, completely dependent on my spouse, in order to assist my child in healing from the trauma and redeveloping his self esteem and self worth, rebuilding  trusting relationships with adults and the system that hurt his body initially so he can hopefully succeed in the future.”

Sarah McPartland (Washington)

“Restraints and seclusions are used abusively, and school districts trivialize and cover up the resulting abuse. My 40-pound daughter was injured through inappropriate restraints, and a 6-year-old from the same classroom was kept in seclusion for the entire school day (six hours) for 19 successive school days while being denied food, water, and bathroom access. Both of these children suffered long-term emotional damage and regressed academically in that classroom.”

Ann Gaydos (Colorado)

Media Contact

Guy Stephens
Executive Director
(443) 975-1166

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