In a nutshell

Parents and disability-rights groups have objected to the use of physical restraints and seclusion to handle disruptive students. Senate Bill 468 would require schools to have a trained employee to implement "positive behavioral interventions and supports" and to administer physical restraints and timeouts. The bill would ban officials from putting students alone in rooms, using "mechanical" restraints that restrict a student's movement and any physical contact that's potentially harmful. The bill spells out when physical restraint or timeouts can be used; for example, in response to an emergency, such as a fight.

The case for it

Advocates have been pushing for legal limits on physical restraint, a ban on seclusion, and better training for school staff for more than 10 years, said Jeffrey Spitzer-Resnick, general counsel for Disability Rights Wisconsin. In 2006, a 7-year-old emotionally troubled girl died after she was physically restrained at a Rice Lake treatment center.

"Kids have been physically and psychologically harmed by these practices," Spitzer-Resnick said.

He said 20 states put limits on physical means for handling out-of-control students - measures that health-care facilities, such as Mendota Mental Health Institute, adopted long ago.

"Instead of restraining and secluding, we need to teach them (students) better behaviors and self restraint," he said.

The case against it

The educational establishment - including the Wisconsin Education Association Council, Wisconsin Association of School District Administrators and Wisconsin Association of School Boards - all oppose the proposal. They say the state Department of Public Instruction already advises schools to use seclusion and physical restraint only "as a last resort" in cases of potential danger to the student or others. The School Administrators Alliance argues that the required training would create "significant" costs for districts.

The alliance also argues that Wisconsin also should wait for Congress, which is considering a similar bill. It passed the House last week.

To get involved

SB 468 and its companion, Assembly Bill 682, have been assigned to the education committees in their respective houses. To comment, contact the committee chairpeople: Sen. John Lehman, D-Racine, at Sen.Lehman@legis.wisconsin.gov or 608-266-1832; and Rep. Sondy Pope-Roberts, D-Middleton, at Rep.Pope-Roberts@legis.wisconsin.gov or 608-266-3520.

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