Senate committee approves bill to protect children with disabilities

Senator Book pushes for her bill to protect students with disabilities during Tuesday's committee meeting.
Photo Submitted by Nya Ramirez.

Florida Democratic state Sen. Lauren Book advocated for a bill Tuesday morning during a Senate committee meeting in regard to children with disabilities in a public-school setting.

Before proposing the bill, Book told a story and asked for the senators to go back to kindergarten and picture themselves at 5 years old in elementary school. She proceeded to ask them to imagine they were a child with disabilities.

Book painted a story for her colleagues so they could understand the difficulties that children with disabilities face every day.

Senate Bill 62 will provide requirements for the use of physical restraints, provide requirements for the use of exclusionary and non-exclusionary time. The bill will also require teachers to document, report and monitor restraints performed on children with disabilities.

“Evidence further shows us that seclusion restraints can actually do the opposite of what it’s intended to do, escalating a child’s arousal  and undermining a child’s trust and capacity to learn,” Book said.

An analysis performed in 2012 shows that restraint and seclusion were used at least 267,000 times nationwide, and 75 percent of the cases were with kids with disabilities who were restrained or secluded, according to ProPublica.  

Many of the senators shared frustrations regarding the safety of children with disabilities during the meeting. “I also do applaud you for taking on this issue, this is not an easy subject and I think we’re all in agreement of wanting to stop the overreaction…” said Senator Kelli Stargel.

According to the National Autism Association, it is estimated that over the last five years, more than 20 students, many with disabilities, have died due to seclusion and restraints being used in schools.

“Data shows that the greatest number of restraint instances from 2017-2018 were for students from pre-K to third grade. These children are the most vulnerable among us. Evidence shows that seclusion and restraint is not an evidence-based technique,” Book said.

SB 26 was approved by the Senate Committee on Education unanimously and will pass through legislation. Chair Manny Diaz also told the committee he agrees with the bill, but also said that in his history of being able to witness children with disabilities at school site and told the committee it is sometimes difficult in trying to decide whether or not the child is a danger.

“I would make myself available as well as staff to help you,” Diaz said.

The National Autism Association provides facts for the public on how to deal with children with disabilities along with safety precautions to take into account.