JEFFERSON CITY, MO. - The recent law requiring schools in Missouri to report incidents of student seclusion and restraint to the state education department is a significant step forward in the fight for educational equity. In addition, this law highlights the urgency of addressing restrictive discipline practices in schools and the need for alternative, positive approaches to managing student behavior.
The statistics from the first half of the academic year are staggering. 1,565 Missouri students were restrained, and just over 600 were isolated. These numbers demonstrate the prevalence of restrictive discipline practices in Missouri schools and the need for change. It is unacceptable that so many students are subjected to practices that can cause harm physically and emotionally.
Parents like Amy Gott, whose son was frequently isolated or restrained, speak to the long-term impact of these practices on students. Her son was frequently removed from the classroom, so he missed out on the educational opportunities his peers received.
When her son was finally diagnosed with high-functioning autism, she took him out of school and began educating him at home. Her story illustrates the importance of understanding the root causes of challenging behaviors in students and addressing them in a supportive and educational manner.
The law requires that seclusion and restraint be used in minimal circumstances and cannot be used as punishment. This is a crucial aspect of the law, as restrictive discipline practices have often been criticized for impacting marginalized students, such as Black, Indigenous, or people of color (BIPOC) and students with disabilities. Moreover, these practices have been shown to increase the school-to-prison pipeline, where students subjected to restrictive discipline are more likely to end up in the criminal justice system.
The law also mandates that schools inform parents of the use of seclusion and restraint with their children. This is an important step towards accountability and transparency. Parents deserve to know what is happening to their children in school and are informed of any restrictive discipline practices used with their children.
State Representative Ian Mackey Louis, who first proposed the bill, expressed hope that the law would encourage Missouri schools to employ more positive behavior modification methods. This is a crucial aspect of the law, as restrictive discipline practices are often seen as a quick fix to challenging behaviors. However, this approach is not effective in the long term and can further harm students.
Instead, schools should focus on developing positive and supportive environments that promote student engagement and learning. This can be achieved through evidence-based practices, such as restorative justice, social-emotional learning, and positive behavior interventions and supports (PBIS). These practices effectively reduce the use of restrictive discipline and improve student behavior and academic outcomes.
In conclusion, the recent law requiring schools in Missouri to report incidents of student seclusion and restraint is a significant step forward in the fight for educational equity. The high number of students subjected to restrictive discipline highlights the need for alternative, positive approaches to managing student behavior. Schools should focus on creating supportive and engaging learning environments where students are allowed to thrive. The law is a step in the right direction, and it is up to us to continue the fight for a more equitable and just educational system for all students.
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