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Bill would end "hidden epidemic" of disciplinary restraint in schools

Hundreds of kids arrested at schools
Handcuffs in Hallways: Hundreds of elementary students arrested at U.S. schools 06:19

A bill introduced in the U.S. Senate this week would ban schools from using controversial discipline techniques, including forcibly restraining children and using so-called "scream rooms," which critics say are tantamount to abuse.  

The Keeping All Student Safe Act, introduced by Connecticut Sen. Chris Murphy, targets all schools receiving federal funding. Each state would need to submit a written plan for managing situations requiring severe discipline. 

The move comes after widespread criticism and pressure to end the practices, which Murphy called "barbaric."  

"This is a hidden epidemic in this country," Murphy said. "Kids in schools that are acting out are often being sent into solitary confinement, shoved into what some schools call 'scream rooms' as punishment, where they're told to sit inside an isolated room, sometimes with padded walls, to correct their misbehaviors. Other kids are being restrained, being tied down after they act out. None of this helps these kids."  

This isn't the first time Murphy has tried to end restraint and seclusion: he's introduced the Keeping All Students Safe Act multiple times over the last decade, though each previous attempt has failed.  

Murphy said he's hopeful things will be different this time.  

"My hope is that Republicans want parents to have a bigger role in schools will take a look at this legislation and see it as something they would support," Murphy said.   

Murphy may have reason to be hopeful. Some districts have moved to review the use of restraint and seclusion or even ban it from all except the most extreme circumstances in response to pressure from parents and activists. 

Even if it passes, the bill would not address the widespread arrests of elementary-aged children that CBS News reported on last fall.  That report highlighted hundreds of arrests of young children in U.S. schools.   

CBS News analysis of data from the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights revealed that more than 700 children were arrested in U.S. elementary schools during the 2017-2018 school year alone. Children with disabilities and Black children were disproportionately affected.  

Last year, Murphy co-sponsored the Counseling Not Criminalization in Schools Act, designed to address those arrests with more counselors in schools. That bill also failed to pass.  

When asked if he plans to reintroduce that legislation, he said, "I haven't made a decision on that yet."  

New data on school discipline from the Department of Education, which was delayed due to COVID-19 school closures, is expected to be released this summer. Murphy said he's concerned the numbers won't be good.  

"I worry that the arrest data is not going to be any better because we have more police inside schools than ever before," Murphy said. "Teachers are stressed out right now, and often what happens is that you've got a police officer in the school [and] it's tempting to outsource discipline to the police officer. And when you do that, instead of the kid ending up in the principal's office, the kid ends up in the back of a police cruiser." 

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