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Death at School: New Bill Aims to Protect Disabled Kids

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- Lawmakers re-introduced legislation Thursday aimed at protecting children with autism and other disabilities from being injured in American schools, saying they were hopeful that greater awareness of the dangers of improper use of restraints will give the bill a better chance of passage.

“Without congressional action, children will continue to suffer from these abusive practices,” said Rep. George Miller of California, the senior Democrat on the House committee that sets education policy. “This legislation would make practices such as duct-tapping children to chairs or restricting a child’s breathing illegal. It makes it very clear that there is no room for torture and abuse in America’s schools.”

Last year, an ABC News investigation that aired on Nightline and World News With Diane Sawyer found that schools were using a wide array of methods to restrain behaviorally disabled children that ranged from sitting on them to handcuffing them, even jolting them with an electric shock at one specialized school.

Thousands of autistic and disabled schoolchildren have been injured and dozens more have died after being physically restrained by poorly trained teachers and school aides, ABC News found.

There are a patchwork of state laws governing how school officials may restrain students who are unruly, and there is no federal standard.

Miller first submitted legislation four years ago in response to rising concerns about the methods some teachers were using to restrain students who were misbehaving or out of control. The bill initially won passage in the House in 2010 with bipartisan support, but it stalled that year in the Senate. Last year, the bill died in the House of Representatives at the hands of a single member who objected to federal intervention.

Minnesota Republican Rep. John Kline, who chairs the House’s education committee, had frozen action in the House on the proposal to institute national standards for how teachers and school staff can safely restrain students.

“Chairman Kline believes state officials and school leaders are best equipped to determine appropriate policies that should be in place to protect students and to hold those who violate those policies accountable,” Alexandra Haynes Sollberger, the communications director for the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, said in an interview last year. “For this reason, the committee has not scheduled any action on seclusion and restraint legislation at this time.”

Miller released a statement to ABC News Thursday saying the new proposal would for the first time set minimum safety standards in the nation’s schools, similar to those protections already required at medical and community-based facilities. It would provide school personnel with the necessary tools, training, and support they need to ensure the safety of all students and school personnel.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio

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