The Arc of Nebraska is asking for help to stop a bad bill LB811. They are asking allies to take action ASAP to call Senators on the Education Committee and tell them not to vote LB 811, the Restraint Bill, out of Committee! This is another bad iteration of a bad bill. Despite amendments, it fails to protect children’s rights adequately. The Alliance Against Seclusion and Restraint sent the following to members of the Education Committee.
Chairman Murman and members of the education committee,
My name is Guy Stephens. I am the founder and executive director of the Alliance Against Seclusion and Restraint (AASR). AASR is an international organization I started four years ago after my son was inappropriately restrained, secluded, and traumatized in a public school. AASR is a community of over 22,000 parents, self-advocates, teachers, school administrators, paraprofessionals, and others. Our mission is to influence changes in policy and practice to reduce and eliminate the use of punitive discipline and outdated behavioral management approaches and end the school-to-prison pipeline. I am writing to you today with tremendous concern about LB811.
This proposed bill (LB811), perhaps well-intentioned, is a step in the wrong direction. Undoubtedly, the last few years have been difficult for students, teachers, and staff in schools across Nebraska. The global pandemic resulted in students missing critical time in the classroom and was a traumatic experience for students, teachers, and families. Returning to school following the pandemic was expected to be challenging, and that has been the case. Aside from missing critical time in the classroom for academics, children missed vital time socializing with peers and adults. As a result, many schools have experienced increased “challenging” behaviors in the schoolhouse. This problem needs to be addressed, but there is a better answer than LB811.
As lawmakers, you have a difficult job on many levels. One of the challenges is that you need to become a subject matter expert in many areas related to proposed legislation. Of course, you have the voices of constituents and experts, but even then, it can be challenging to separate fact from opinion. We often look to those impacted by a problem to provide solutions. However, this is not always the best approach. Many times when individuals are in a position where they are overwhelmed by a problem, they are not in a good place to solve it. When we are desperate for solutions, we often double down on strategies that don’t work. This is an issue we see in some schools across the nation.
As a national expert on restraint and seclusion, I wanted to share an informed perspective on LB811. As we have discussed, there has been an increase in behavior in classrooms following the pandemic. This increase in behavior can be attributed to the trauma many were subjected to during the pandemic. We know today that trauma changes the brain. The changes that occur in the brain due to trauma lead to hypervigilance and an increase in stress-related behavior. Hypervigilance can lead to behaviors when the child becomes overwhelmed or triggered. The situation may escalate when compliance-based demands are placed on a child they cannot meet. This escalation can lead to a fight, flight, or freeze response. At this moment, a child is more likely to be restrained and secluded, especially if policy encourages using these misguided techniques.
Restraint and seclusion result in trauma, injuries, and even death. Being held to the ground or forced into a seclusion room is traumatizing. The trauma can lead to further changes in the brain that cause children to be more fearful and hypervigilant, often leading to an increase in behaviors, which may have been what caused them to be restrained and secluded in the first place. It is important to know that our brains and nervous systems are wired for survival. The behavior young children exhibit is not always volitional; it is often a stress response influenced by trauma. It is traumatizing to teachers and staff as well. It is traumatic for the other children who witness a classmate being physically restrained or secluded. What we find in practice is the more a child is restrained or secluded, the more likely they will be to exhibit behaviors of concern.
In 2012 the United States Department of Education issued guidance that said restraint and seclusion should be avoided to the greatest extent possible. The Department of Education suggested that these interventions should only be used in life-threatening situations. However, restraint and seclusion are often utilized for noncompliance, disrespect, and minor behaviors in Nebraska. Knowing that children have died due to the use of physical restraint, we know that physical restraint is potentially deadly force. We must have accountability and oversight when deadly force is used on a young disabled child, which is, in fact, where it is most commonly used.
Given that physical restraint is dangerous and leads to trauma, we should do all we can to avoid the use of restraint. LB811 would make it easier for staff to use physical interventions and reduce accountability. This is a step in the wrong direction. If you look around the country, many states are working hard to reduce and eliminate the use of restraint and seclusion. Crisis Prevention Institute, the country’s largest crisis management training company, is also working to reduce and eliminate the use of restraint and seclusion. It is the right thing to do. There are far better ways to support children, teachers, and staff. This bill would take Nebraska in the wrong direction and jeopardize the safety of children, teachers, and staff.
There are few policies in a school that, when misused, can result in the death of a child, but restraint is one of them. This issue is too important to get wrong. We recommend that you shelf this bill for further study. AASR would be happy to be a resource for the committee if we can help in any way. Thank you for your time and attention to this critical issue.
Founder and Executive Director
Alliance Against Seclusion and Restraint