Preventing abuses like placing students in seclusion to punish them is among the goals of a bill filed Tuesday in the Missouri House, said its sponsor, state Rep. Dottie Bailey, R-Eureka.

The bill also would provide guidance for school districts for seclusion and restraint of students, said Bailey, vice chairwoman of the House Elementary and Secondary Education Committee.

It has the support of Missouri Disability Empowerment, a group advocating for students and others with disabilities.

Her bill has the same wording as a measure approved by the committee last year that didn't get to the floor for debate, Bailey said.

It requires school districts to adopt policies that prohibit the use of seclusion and restraint except when necessary to prevent harm to students, teachers and staff. A written report would be required to be filed within 30 days of each incident with the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. Parents would have to be notified of incidents involving their children within 24 hours. Parents and guardians would also be able to file a complaint with the education department about the use of seclusion or restraint on their children.

The bill defines restraint as the use of physical force to restrict the free movement of all or part of a student's body. It defines seclusion as the involuntary confinement of a student alone in a room or area from which the student is physically prevented from leaving. It doesn't include breaks from the classroom requested by the student or situations included in the student's special education or disability plans.

"There's no actual statute in Missouri" that covers student seclusion and restraint, leaving districts to develop policies on their own, Bailey said. "We really wanted to get this going."

"From the stories we've heard, abuses are occurring, most often to African-American students and kiddos with disabilities," Bailey said. "It's quite concerning. It's troubling."

She mentioned a recent partnership between Propublica and the Chicago Tribune which uncovered abuses in Illinois which resulted in the  state's governor banning student seclusion.

"We have to stop any abuses," Bailey said.

She didn't consider an outright ban on seclusion and restraint, she said.

"I believe in the legislative process," Bailey said. "I don't know everything. It's a good way to shine some light on it."

In Columbia, child advocates have complained about seclusion rooms used at the Center for Responsive Education and other school buildings.

Robyn Schelp, president of Missouri Disability Empowerment, said the advocacy group is behind the bill.

"This law will just encourage every school to strengthen their seclusion policy to keep students safe," Schelp said.

In a news release issued by Bailey's office, Schelp said she also has heard of abuses.

"We continue to hear horror stories from students who have been hurt or have experienced trauma related to seclusion and restraint," Schelp said. "We have parents tell us that their schools are using seclusion and isolation as forms of time-out."

State Rep. Chuck Basye, R-Rocheport, who is chairman of the House Elementary and Secondary Education Committee, said he will support Bailey's bill as a co-sponsor. It was late in the session when the committee heard the bill last year and there was not enough time to get it to the floor, he said.

"It's a deal where something needs to be done," Basye said.

He has toured the seclusion rooms at CORE and he thinks Columbia Schools are using them appropriately, he said. During last session's hearing, he heard from a parent from another school district who was very upset because her child was traumatized by being placed in seclusion.

Missouri Disability Empowerment has been cooperating with the Columbia Board of Education to update its policy on seclusion and restraint. Though the school board pushes back against legislation it feels interferes with local control of schools, school board Vice President Jonathan Sessions said legislation that protects students' civil liberties isn't in that category.

He hasn't read the bill, so he can't say if he is in favor of it, he said. He expects the new policy to be on the agenda for next week's school board meeting.

"I think we're going to be in a great place with our policy," Sessions said. "It's more restrictive and more protective of students than what's in the legislation."

Bailey said she plans to find both Republic and Democratic co-sponsors for her bill and already had some who have made spoken commitments.

rmckinney@columbiatribune.com

573-815-1719