Jeff Spitzer-Resnick: Wisconsin’s seclusion and restraint law needs improvements

Jeff Spitzer-Resnick, who is one of our board members and chair of our advocacy committee, wrote a column in the Cap Times about this important issue. The text of his column is below:

By Jeff Spitzer-Resnick | guest columnist Nov 21, 2019

After 12 years of effort, advocates, families and victims of the inappropriate use of seclusion and restraint on Wisconsin school children celebrated when Act 125 was passed unanimously by Wisconsin’s Legislature and signed into law by then-Gov. Walker, taking effect in 2012.

Although many of us who worked so hard for so long to pass this bill celebrated — and I still have Gov. Walker’s pen from the bill signing as a memento — we knew at the time that, due to necessary compromises which were made in order to achieve legislative passage, the bill was less than ideal.

Since Wisconsin’s seclusion and restraint law went into effect, we have learned a lot about the use of these aversive techniques on Wisconsin’s schoolchildren. We now have an answer that had previously eluded us as to how many children are victims of these techniques, and sadly, we know those numbers are in the thousands. We also know that due to some flaws in the original legislation, we have been stymied in making more progress in reducing the use of these aversive techniques in favor of positive behavioral interventions and supports (PBIS).

From my own vantage point, not a day has gone by since the passage of Act 125 when I do not have clients who have suffered under the use of seclusion and restraints, and a significant number of those clients are on the autism spectrum. Moreover, parents continue to wonder whether there are better and safer places to send their children, who are victims of these aversive techniques, to school.

That is why, on behalf of the Autism Society of South Central Wisconsin, in my role as advocacy chair, I urge the Legislature to pass Senate Bill 527, which addresses some of the critical flaws in Act 125, as follows:

• Requires that seclusion rooms cannot have a lock on the door;

• Bans the use of prone restraints on school children, as they are potentially lethal;

• Improves the mandatory training requirements for those authorized to use physical restraints on school children to require: a) evidence-based instruction on PBIS, b) evidence-based techniques shown to prevent or reduce the use of restraints, and (c) the ability to identify prohibited restraint techniques;

• Adds law enforcement officers who use seclusion or restraint in a school building to those who must meet the notice and reporting requirements under the law;

• Requires the school principal to meet with those who participated in the incident to discuss the events that occurred before, during and after the use of seclusion or restraint and how to prevent the need for its use in the future;

• Applies the notice, reporting and debriefing requirements to private school students if public school students have placed the child there; and

• Requires school districts to provide their annual seclusion and restraint data to the Department of Public Instruction, and to disaggregate that data to identify the number of incidents that involve children with disabilities.

Taken together, the provisions in this bill will hopefully reduce the use of seclusion and restraint, make its use safer when it is used, and provide greater transparency to the public about its use. This transparency will not only help parents make better decisions about where to send their children to school, but it will provide opportunities for school districts and DPI to identify areas where schools are struggling by overusing these aversive techniques and can learn from schools who have successfully learned how to use PBIS instead of seclusion and restraint.

Jeff Spitzer-Resnick is a public interest civil rights lawyer in Madison and advocacy chair of the Autism Society of South Central Wisconsin. This piece was first published on his website: Systems Change Consulting.

link to the article