* Jennifer Smith Richards of the Chicago Tribune and Jodi S. Cohen of ProPublica Illinois…
After months of debate about schools’ use of seclusion and face-down restraints on children, Illinois lawmakers did not act last week on a measure that would have banned the controversial practices immediately, instead delaying the decision until the fall at the earliest.
Although Gov. J.B. Pritzker and state schools Superintendent Carmen Ayala have vowed to stop the practices of putting children alone in locked rooms and holding them down on the floor, the bill faced opposition from school groups that viewed oversight requirements as too burdensome.
Months of meetings among lawmakers, school lobbyists and advocates ended with broad agreement that schools should reduce their reliance on the physical interventions, used most often on students with disabilities, according to meeting participants. But a last-minute push from the school groups tabled the matter this session; they thought the bill asked too much of school workers, who would be required to hold debriefing meetings with parents or guardians every time a student is put in time out or is restrained.
A Chicago Tribune and ProPublica Illinois investigation last year, “The Quiet Rooms,” revealed widespread misuse of both practices in the state’s public schools.
New state rules adopted in April already significantly limit those practices and require state oversight for the first time, but advocates and lawmakers continued to push for a state law that would have superseded the rules and increased restrictions and oversight.
The most recent draft of the legislation would have made it illegal to put students alone in a locked room or in a room with the door blocked, and would have required that students placed in seclusion have access to food, medication and the bathroom. The bill also would have required school workers to meet with students and parents within two school days of each instance of time out or restraint and ordered the Illinois State Board of Education to develop plans within 90 days to reduce the use of restraint and seclusion in any form within three years.
“We’ve had all these meetings, all these meetings, and then at the eleventh hour, they come in and kill the bill,” Rep. Jonathan Carroll, a Democrat from Northbrook, said of the Illinois Statewide School Management Alliance, which lobbies on behalf of the state’s public school principals and administrators, school finance officials and school boards. Carroll, who has spoken about being secluded as a child and the harm it caused, sponsored the House version of the bill. […]
Phil Milsk, a legislative adviser for the Illinois Association of School Social Workers, said the organization opposed the legislation because it was not clear that it applied to all schools, including private schools and special education cooperatives. He said requiring two debriefing meetings after each time out or restraint was “excessive” and would be “a huge burden on staff” and families. […]
Kyle Hillman, director of legislative affairs for the National Association of Social Workers, which supported the measure, said he was disappointed that opposition derailed the bill after months of negotiations.
“We have said from the beginning that … ultimately the bad actors in this state are not willingly going to end this abusive practice,” he wrote in a statement. “We continue to hold out hope our elected officials step up and end this practice now before this becomes another Illinois tragedy story.”
* From Rep. Carroll…
I’m very disappointed that special interests put the protection of its members over what’s best for our most vulnerable children. I’m not surprised that the School Management Alliance did this because it’s what they always do, but I’m disappointed that other organizations would join in these efforts. Senator Gillespie and I are committed to ending these brutal practices and will continue pushing forth this legislation.
According to Carroll, the groups opposing the bill included the Statewide School Management Alliance, the Illinois Alliance of Administrators of Special Education, the Illinois Association of Private Special Education Centers, ED-RED, the Illinois Association of School Social Workers, LEND and SCOPE.
…Adding… Equip for Equality…
We are extremely disappointed that the legislature didn’t act on this critical issue. The sponsors spent months working with a stakeholder group primarily comprised of school associations and adopted many changes at their request. Despite this process, in the end, the school industry united and stopped the legislature’s reform effort.
It felt like déjà vu. Twenty years ago, after a television news expose by Dave Savini, we were able to pass a temporary law banning these practices, while ISBE developed rules to stop the abuses by schools. ISBE allowed school groups to dominate the stakeholder membership; our voice for student and parent rights was largely ignored. Schools continued to ignore the weak law, as this year’s exposé demonstrated.
It is shameful that Illinois statutes provide life-saving limitations on the use of restraint and seclusion on adults with developmental disabilities and mental illness, but not on vulnerable students with disabilities.
Unlike other states that are seeking to reduce and eliminate the use of these practices, and some states that have banned them altogether, Illinois’ school industry continues to be steadfast in its opposition to reform. The legislature has been all too willing to bend to their preferences. The schools blocked meaningful reform 20 years ago, and again last week. The legislature needs to stop giving in to the schools and take a more balanced approach that takes into account student safety.