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Georgia school board eyes ban on seclusion in schools

ATLANTA -- The Georgia Board of Education is considering banning solitary confinement in schools and limiting the use of restraint to calm misbehaving students, which would mark the first time the state has addressed the controversial practices.

If the policy is approved, it would move Georgia off a federal list of nearly 20 states that do no regulate seclusion and restraint in schools. And for the first time, it would require schools to notify parents when their children are restrained by teachers and other school officials.

For Don King, whose 13-year-old son, Jonathan, hanged himself in 2004 in a seclusion room where he'd been locked up for hours a day at his Gainesville special education school, the proposed policy would be a relief.

"I don't want nobody to experience what we've been going through," said King, a Georgia Power worker who has been pushing for the state to ban seclusion. "It's terrible. We miss him every day."

The state began the process of drafting a policy on the tactics two years ago, holding meetings and public forums to get input on the best way to give teachers the ability to control unruly or violent students without causing injury.

Parents of special education students in schools for the state's most emotionally disturbed children raised concerns. State officials visited the schools to get a firsthand look at the seclusion rooms.

"Frightening is a good description," said Garry McGiboney, an associate superintendent at the state Department of Education.

They were often tiny and dark with no windows where teachers could check on the student without opening the door, he said.

After those visits, seclusion was banned at the 24 Georgia Network for Education and Therapeutic Support schools. The new policy would prohibit it at all schools. It also would limit the use of restraint and ask schools to collect data on the practice.

It also would require any teacher who uses restraint tactics -- such as holding down a student's arms -- to get training on how to prevent injuries.

Seclusion and restraint have been blamed for injuries in both students and teachers in the state, as well as Jonathan King's death. State officials have no idea how often the tactics are used because schools have not been required to keep track, something that will change if the new policy is adopted by the state board.

It is being considered by the board Wednesday and Thursday, but it could be another month before it's on the books because state officials have to hold public hearings on it.

Soon, the practices could be banned in every state as federal lawmakers consider the first-ever legislation that would prohibit restraint and seclusion in most circumstances and require training for educators on effective behavior management.

Nationally, at least 20 deaths since 1990 have been attributed to restricted breathing tactics used as school discipline, according to a federal report released last year. One mother told investigators that her 4-year-old autistic daughter born with cerebral palsy came home with bruises on her chest, calves and wrists after she was strapped to a chair for throwing tantrums, according to the report from the Government Accountability Office.