Supporters of a bill that would require all North Dakota school districts to have a written seclusion and restraint policy say it would help protect students with disabilities, but opponents question both the need and the cost.
House Bill 1318 also would ban school staff from secluding or restraining students unless there is an "imminent danger of serious physical harm" to the student or others.
Restraining students in a face-down position, in a way that restricts their ability to breathe or communicate distress, or in a way that puts pressure on their head, neck or torso would be prohibited.
The bill also would require annual training for staff on alternative ways to manage student behavior.
Rep. Larry Klemin, R-Bismarck, sponsored the bill but did not present it to the House Education Committee on Tuesday. Co-sponsor Sen. Joan Heckaman, D-New Rockford, spoke in favor of the bill.
"We can help these students, their parents, educators and administrators make school success possible for all students, but we need to start with a policy," she said.
The committee did not immediately take action on the bill.
Parents and advocates for people with disabilities told the committee that seclusion and restraint techniques are used disproportionately on students with disabilities.
Those students represent about 15% of the North Dakota student population but two-thirds of seclusion incidents and three-fourths of restraint incidents, according to Office of Civil Rights data, Protection and Advocacy Project Legal Assistant Mandy Dendy testified.
The ARC of North Dakota Executive Director Kirsten Dvorak told lawmakers, "Research indicates that aversive procedures such as deprivation, physical restraint and seclusion do not reduce challenging behaviors and can inhibit the development of appropriate skills and behaviors. These practices are dangerous, dehumanizing, result in a loss of dignity and are unacceptable in a civilized society."
Nicki Kehr, from Lincoln, described her son De'Vyon's encounter with a school resource officer. The officer pushed De'Vyon against a wall and held him there even while the boy kept saying "it hurts," Nicki Kehr said.
Opponents of the bill listed concerns with the state mandating local policy.
The North Dakota School Boards Association surveyed 175 member school districts, and 109 already have a seclusion and restraint policy, according to Executive Director Alexis Baxley. She said her organization is concerned about placing limits on how school districts can work with students.
Bismarck Public Schools has a policy in place that bans seclusion and restraint except in cases that could immediately result in physical harm or extreme property damage. Mandan Public Schools does not have a specific policy in place.
Opponents also were concerned about the bill's mandatory training requirement. North Dakota Council of Educational Leaders Assistant Director Russ Ziegler told the committee that training could be costly. He added that the bill's language did not specify whether training would be solely for teachers or also for other members of school staff, which would make it even more expensive.
It would be easier if the bill mandated only that school districts have to enact a seclusion and restraint policy, Ziegler said.
A similar bill failed to pass during the 2019 legislative session.
Reach Sam Nelson at 701-250-8264 or firstname.lastname@example.org.