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Oregon Senate Passes Bill Clarifying Use Of Student Restraint

<p>State Sen. Sara Gelser, D-Corvallis, speaks on the floor of the Oregon Senate on Monday, Jan. 14, 2019.</p>

Bradley W. Parks

State Sen. Sara Gelser, D-Corvallis, speaks on the floor of the Oregon Senate on Monday, Jan. 14, 2019.

Next year, teachers may have a better understanding of what is and isn’t OK when it comes to restraining students.

Legislators passed Senate Bill 963 on Monday, a revision on a 2011 bill.

The 2011 legislation limited the use of physical restraint and seclusion for Oregon students. But SB963 sponsor Sen. Sara Gelser, D-Corvallis, said she's heard from families who said the current law allows inappropriate use – a teacher putting their hands around a student’s neck, for example.

At the same time, the law could be too restrictive when a student might be in danger. 

“We have heard from teachers and school officials who have said that the current law makes it impossible for them to do common sense things, like rescue a kindergartner that’s about to run in front of a speeding car,” Gelser said during the bill’s third reading Monday.

The new legislation allows teachers to provide “reasonable intervention” if the intervention is necessary to the student’s safety. The bill also allows teachers to protect themselves during a physical fight or assaults.

A recent review by OPB showed that schools in the Northwest have used restraint or isolation thousands of times in recent school years.

During last week’s public hearing on the bill, Bob Joondeph of Disability Rights Oregon called the measure a good resolution to safety issues in the classroom.

“We all want the same thing – safe schools,” Joondeph said, “schools to be safe for students, for staff, for anyone involved with the school.”

In addition to clarifying the definition of restraint, the bill prohibits the use of specific types of restraint, including methods where a student may be held on the floor.

Speaking in support of the legislation Monday, Sen. Lew Frederick, D-Portland, drew on stories he heard from a statewide tour with the Joint Interim Committee on Student Success.

“The teachers, the parents and other folks who have been very concerned about the uncertain status of what they could do in dealing with safety of children – both individual but also in a classroom – was really significant,” Frederick said. “This is an excellent approach.”

The bill now heads to the Oregon House. If it passes, it may take effect as soon as this summer.

Copyright 2019 Oregon Public Broadcasting