Gov. Sean Parnell signed a flurry of bills Wednesday, but for many in the mental health community few pieces of legislation could be more important than House Bill 210.
"We're talking about actual seclusion and restraint, where tactics are used to really de-escalate a situation that has gotten way out of control,” said Rep. Charisse Millett (R-Anchorage).
Millett sponsored the bipartisan legislation, which institutes new training guidelines for teachers and administrators who work with special-needs students in Alaska public schools.
Physical intervention would only be deemed necessary if the student's behavior poses an imminent danger of physical injury to the student or another person.
Educators would be required to learn less restrictive manners of dealing with students. All physical incidents must be clearly documented and the information forwarded to the Department of Education and Early Development.
The bill also bans teachers or staff from using restraints or chemicals to subdue a student. It also bars them from restraining a student in any manner that restricts the students’ breathing.
"It's something that students need, and teachers need and professionals need,” said Jeanne Gearhardt-Cyrus, who testified in support of the bill.
She says her daughter, who suffers from anxiety, went through years of physical abuse at the hands of educators who weren't properly trained.
"Dragging her down the hall, restraining her, putting her in seclusion," Gearhardt-Cyrus said.
The Anchorage School District released a statement on the bill's signing Wednesday:
“We don't believe that the signing of HB210 will have a significant impact on ASD in regard to the policies and procedures for the use of restraint and seclusion, since the language in this bill appears very much aligned to our policies and practice,” ASD officials wrote. “Staff that serve our more intensive students already receive evidence-based training when it comes to crisis intervention. There are some questions regarding specific details of the bill but, now that it is law, we will work closely with the state to ensure the district is in compliance.”
For her part, Millett says politicians should have a say in setting school policies.
"Every student has the right to feel safe at school, and it is our job as legislators, policy makers and the governor and Department of Education, to make sure we have fulfilled those obligations to make those schools safe,” Millett said.
Millett's bill takes effect in the middle of October. She says for now, one principal and one teacher will be trained, with more following if the district can afford it.