Seclusion and Restraint in Schools to Be Dramatically Limited in Illinois

Original story written by Jodi S. Cohen and Jennifer Smith Richards for the Chicago Tribune on June 1st, 2021. A link to the original article may be found HERE

Illinois lawmakers took sweeping action Sunday to limit the use of seclusion and restraint in schools, following through on promises made after a 2019 Tribune-ProPublica investigation revealed that school workers had regularly misused the practices to punish students.

The House voted unanimously to pass legislation barring school workers from locking children alone in seclusion spaces and limiting the use of any type of isolated timeout or physical restraint to when there’s “imminent danger of physical harm.” The legislation requires schools that receive state funding to make a plan to reduce — and eventually eliminate — the practices over the next three years. Schools that develop plans more quickly can receive priority for new grant funding for staff training.

This story is a collaboration between the Tribune and ProPublica.

A main feature of the legislation — and the element that proved most contentious among lawmakers over the past 18 months — is an immediate ban on schools’ use of prone, or facedown, restraint for most students. Restraining a student that way would be permitted only for children whose special-education plans specifically allow it as an emergency measure and only until the end of the 2021-22 school year, granting schools more time to phase out the practice than some legislators and advocates sought.

Rep. Jonathan Carroll, a Democrat from Northbrook who sponsored the House bill, has described his enduring trauma after being secluded in school as a child.

“This has been a long journey for a lot of us,” Carroll told a House committee Friday before it referred the bill for the full vote in the House. “We’ve got to stop these practices from happening. We’ve got to get this right.”

The Senate previously voted 52-1 to pass the bill. The legislation now goes to Gov. J.B. Pritzker, who has called the isolation of children “appalling” and said he would work with legislators to ban it. In a statement issued Monday, Pritzker confirmed he plans to sign the bill, saying the legislation will “better protect students, particularly our youngest, disabled and most vulnerable children.”

Facedown floor restraints and seclusion, the act of confining children to small rooms as a behavioral intervention, have been legal in the state for decades.

The existing law allows school workers to use seclusion and restraint when there is a safety concern and requires no oversight. While lawmakers debated changes, state officials adopted new rules that require schools to report to the state when a student is put in seclusion or restraint. Under the bill awaiting Pritzker’s signature, the Illinois State Board of Education would be directed to sanction schools that misuse the practices.

An effort to ban seclusion in schools nationally also began anew last week. The Keeping All Students Safe Act was reintroduced jointly by House and Senate Democrats on Wednesday as U.S. lawmakers said they were committed to ending not only seclusion and prone restraint but also supine restraint, in which students are placed on their back and held down. Such legislation has stalled in Congress several times since 2009.

Illinois legislators began working to ban seclusion and restraint after a Tribune-ProPublica investigation in late 2019 revealed that some schools routinely locked children in closet like seclusion rooms to force them to complete schoolwork, for being disrespectful to employees or for behavioral infractions as minor as spilling milk. Inside the small spaces, children sometimes cried for their parents, tore at the walls, or urinated when they were denied use of the bathroom.

 

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