TRENTON - Just three days after News 12 New Jersey finished airing a Kane In Your Corner investigation into physical restraint of students with special needs, two state senators have introduced a bipartisan measure intended to fix some of the problems identified in the three-part series.
"If you're going to have restraints, and we're not saying you can't, there has to be a protocol," says Sen. Kevin O'Toole, (R-Wayne), who is co-sponsoring the bill along with Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-West Deptford). O'Toole says he was watching News 12 New Jersey when the Kane In Your Corner investigation caught his eye. "As a father, I was outraged," he says.
The reform measure would ban the use of prone restraint, when children are pinned face down. The technique can put pressure on a child's lungs and diaphragm and has been linked to several deaths, including that of Jason Tallman, of Ocean County.
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The bill also addresses a parent's right to know, which was a central theme of the Kane In Your Corner investigation. Two mothers said no one informed them their kids were being restrained until they found out on their own. The O'Toole-Sweeney legislation would require schools notify them every time. "There has to be a crystal-clear notification process," O'Toole says. "The moment there is a restraint in place, they should email or call and send a letter to the parents."
Finally, the bill requires that all schools get restraint training from qualified professionals, and that only trained personnel take part in restraining students. Training is a controversial topic, with some advocates arguing it encourages staff to become aggressive with students and questioning the credentials of some trainers. But training companies and educators contend it's safer to have trained staff, and say reputable training also includes work on issues such as conflict de-escalation.
O'Toole says the issue of restraint has "long been out there," but says last week's Kane In Your Corner investigation "really crystallized what the issue is, what the problem is, and we're coming up with what we think is a good solution."