Traumatic use of physical restraints and seclusion may no longer be a technique used on students, particularly those with disabilities, come next school year.
That’s because the both the Florida House and Senate voted unanimously in favor of HB 149, which aims to prohibit the practice of secluding a student in an isolated room and severely limit the use of physical restraints such handcuffs and zip ties to only certain situations.
The bill is sponsored by Rep. Bobby DuBose, a Democrat who represents part of Broward County. According to DuBose, the legislation predates his time in the Legislature, but he’s pushed the bill for years, each time failing to get approval from the Legislature.
But for the 2021 legislative session, HB 149 finally has a chance to become law. The measure passed its final stop in the Florida Legislature on Monday, with a 40 to 0 vote in the state Senate.
The legislation is now ready for Gov. Ron DeSantis, who will decide whether to approve the bill or not.
“I am pleased to see this monumental piece of legislation finally pass through the Legislature,” DuBose said in a press release. “This will be the first step in ensuring that schools are a safe environment, where our students can learn and feel protected.”
The bill addresses the practice of seclusion and the use of physical restraints on students. The bill analysis notes these techniques “may have an emotional impact on students and should not be used to punish a student or as a deterrent,” particularly regarding students with disabilities.
In addition, school districts will provide training to better handle a disruptive student before restraints are needed.
“Students deserve to be safe at school, and parents deserve peace of mind,” said Sen. Lauren Book, a Democrat who represents part of Broward County, in a press release. She sponsored the Senate version of HB 149.
“While the majority of our special education school professionals provide caring and safe learning environments for students with disabilities, we have unfortunately seen serious abuses committed as well,” Book continued. “When Governor DeSantis signs this bill into law, students with disabilities will no longer be placed into dangerous situations including seclusion and restraint while in Florida classrooms.”
The bill says that every Florida school district shall prohibit the practice of seclusion, which the legislation defines as “the involuntary confinement of a student in a room or area alone and preventing the student from leaving the room or area.”
As for the use of physical restraints, the bill limits when items such as handcuffs, straightjackets, and zip ties can be used on a student.
If the bill is approved, restraints can only be used on a student if they pose imminent danger to themselves or others and all other methods of intervention have been exhausted. The restraint has to be removed when the danger posed by the student has dissipated.
In the years between academic year 2010-11 through 2019-20, a total of 86,969 restraint incidents were reported in Florida schools, according to a legislative analysis. Also in that same timeframe, 21,489 instances of a student being secluded were reported.
“Parents can finally breathe a sigh of relief for knowing their child will not experience the unnecessary trauma of being restrained, secluded, or put in another harmful situation by school personnel,” DuBose said a press release.