Casey Urges Review of Disciplinary Actions Against Special Needs Children

WASHINGTON, DC- Following the release of a report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) that raises concerns over disciplinary actions taken against special needs children in private and public schools, U.S. Senator Bob Casey (D-PA) today wrote to Arne Duncan, Secretary of the U.S. Department of Education, asking him to work collaboratively to prevent the mistreatment of special needs students.

“I respectfully request that you review its contents carefully so that we may work together on solutions to what clearly appears to be a crisis in classrooms for children with disabilities and their parents,” Senator Casey wrote.

Senator Casey went on to write, “Even one case of abuse resulting from the use of these methods would be a tragedy.  The fact that GAO found hundreds of cases of alleged abuse and even death in these situations is outrageous.”

Senator Casey asked that the Department of Education be proactive in responding to this finding and seek areas where guidelines or further investigation would be helpful and productive.  He also highlighted the success of the Centennial School at Lehigh University in Pennsylvania where children who have trouble controlling violent or otherwise disruptive behavior are taught coping skills that help them communicate without being made to feel fear or shame at school.

Also in the letter, Senator Casey pledges to work closely with his colleagues on the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor & Pensions (HELP) as well as to craft an appropriate response to the lack of federal law restricting the use of seclusion and restraints in American schools.

Full text of the letter is below.
 
Dear Secretary Duncan:

I am writing in regards to the Government Accountability Office (GAO) report that was released on May 19, 2009 entitled “Seclusions and Restraints: Selected Cases of Death and Abuse at Public and Private Schools and Treatment Centers.”  I respectfully request that you review its contents carefully so that we may work together on solutions to what clearly appears to be a crisis in classrooms for children with disabilities and their parents.

The report, which examines existing law regarding the use of such disciplinary tactics as seclusion and restraints in public and private schools, raises serious concerns about the treatment of special needs children in classrooms.  Even one case of abuse resulting from the use of these methods would be a tragedy.  The fact that GAO found hundreds of cases of alleged abuse and even death in these situations is outrageous.  I understand that the House Education and Labor Committee is preparing for legislative action on federal laws that would prohibit the use of these tactics in schools.  I intend to work closely with my colleagues on the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, & Pensions (HELP) as well to craft an appropriate response to the lack of federal law restricting the use of seclusion and restraints in American schools.

I believe that the Department of Education should also take action while Congress explores options to curb these tragic abuses.  The GAO found that many faculty and staff in schools lack training in disciplining children, particularly those who are disruptive or violent in classrooms.  I ask that the Department be proactive in responding to this finding and seek areas where guidelines or further investigation would be helpful and productive.  In my home state of Pennsylvania, the Centennial School at Lehigh University reports success in dealing with severely emotionally disturbed children in the classroom.  Children who have trouble controlling violent or otherwise disruptive behavior are taught coping skills that help them communicate without being made to feel fear or shame at school.

Parents should not have to fear sending their children to school.  Those whose children have disabilities face special challenges in ensuring that their children will be safe and well cared for while they are entrusted to teachers and staff.  I appreciate your attention to this matter and I look forward to working with you to seek solutions to abuse of special needs children.

                                                            Sincerely,
                                                            Robert P. Casey, Jr.
                                                            United States Senator

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