Jefferson City

State Rep. Dottie Bailey, R-Eureka, who serves as vice-chair of the House Elementary and Secondary Education Committee, has prefiled legislation to strengthen Missouri’s law regarding seclusion and restraint of children, many with disabilities, in schools.

Seclusion and restraint are dangerous practices and violate the sanctity of parental rights.

Since there is no federal law regulating the content of seclusion or restraint policies and time-out rooms, many states have adopted laws to strengthen policies and protect students and parental rights.

The language in HB 1568 defines restraint as the use of physical force, with or without the use of any physical device or material, to restrict the free movement of all or a portion of a student’s body.

Seclusion is defined as the involuntary confinement of a student alone in a room or area from which the student is physically prevented from leaving.

Types of seclusion include a student-requested or adult-accompanied break from the classroom, in-school suspension, detention, or other appropriate disciplinary measures.

Thirty states have laws providing comprehensive protections against seclusion and restraint while 39 states have protective laws for students with disabilities.

Missouri does not offer either of these protections. It currently has one of the weakest seclusion and restraint laws in the country, allowing abusive practices that disproportionately involve the most vulnerable children, those with disabilities.

Bailey’s legislation mirrors state Rep. Ian Mackey’s HB 1023 from 2019. Mackey (D-District 87) also will file seclusion legislation for the 2020 session.

Current law is vague regarding seclusion and restraint. It does not even define these two actions. Schools must adopt a seclusion and restraint policy, but little guidance is given in state law as to what this policy must contain.

“I look forward to leading this bipartisan effort in the Legislature to protect our most vulnerable children from any type of abuse and/or trauma these practices may inflict while protecting parental rights,” Bailey added. “The U.S. Department of Education warned in 2012 that the practice of seclusion and restraint shows no evidence that it reduces problematic behaviors. Missouri needs guidelines and structure to follow to ensure any abuses stop immediately.”

Earlier this month, ProPublica and the Chicago Tribune published a story about seclusion in Illinois schools.

The story led to Illinois’ Gov. J.B. Pritzker issuing an emergency rule banning seclusion in public schools.

Bailey hopes Missouri will take similar action and protect Missouri students and parental rights by passing seclusion and restraint legislation.

This legislation is supported by Missouri Disability Empowerment and Paraquad, a nonprofit disabilities organization.

HB 1597

A second bill prefiled by Bailey is known as the “Child Poverty Reduction Act of 2020.”

The language of the bill stipulates to be eligible for the supplemental nutrition assistance program (SNAP), a parent or caretaker relative of a child under 19 years of age shall cooperate with the child support program, unless the family support division within the department of social services determines the parent or caretaker relative has good cause for failing to cooperate.