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House passes bill that limits use of restraints, isolation in Washington schools

Washington schools would no longer have the option to restrain or isolate special needs or autistic children except in limited circumstances, under a bill passed by the state House on Monday.

Special needs children, under federal law, must have an individual learning plan. In Washington, that plan can include isolating the student, binding his or her limbs together or tying the student to an object to correct bad behavior.

The plans could no longer include restraint or isolation as planned interventions under House Bill 1240. School districts could only use the interventions if the student poses an imminent risk of harm.

Rep. Gerry Pollet, Seattle Democrat and prime sponsor of the bill, said teachers have better tools to deal with a student’s behavior. “We should not be planning to use handcuffs, to use physical restraints, to lie on top of a child,” he said.

But some worry the bill removes necessary measures for teachers to protect themselves and other students. Rep. Brad Klippert introduced amendments to give teachers more discretion, but both failed.

“Some of these children are very large and very strong,” the Kennewick Republican said. “We’re asking teachers who are not as large and as strong to teach every child and they need to be able to take some action to protect all children, all staff members and all property of the school.”

The measure moves over to the state Senate after a vote of 68-29.

Lawmakers in that chamber are also considering a bill that focuses on positive interventions. Senate Bill 5688 would require the state Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction to set social and emotional learning standards. It passed out of committee, but so far has not received a floor vote.