The Keeping Children Safe Act might sound laudable in name, but it represents the most recent intrusion of the federal government on local public and private schools. H.R. 4247, which passed the House last week by a vote of 262 to 153, prescribes federal regulations on seclusion and restraint disciplinary procedures used by teachers to control violent students. While the intentions may have been to protect children, the compliance requirements make the legislation another unnecessary and unfunded federal burden on states and local schools.
The bill contains an unprecedented mandate for increased teacher training, requiring schools – both public and private – to employ at least one teacher trained in federally-defined appropriate disciplinary action. The legislation also requires affected schools to report yearly disaggregated data on every instance of physical restraint or seclusion, as defined in the bill, and any parental follow up that occurs after such instances.
In a rare expansion of federal regulation of private schools, the bill will apply to all Title 1 schools or any academic institution that receives federal funding under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. According to the Council for American Private Education (CAPE), the bill would apply to 80 percent of private, Catholic schools and many more private and religious institutions across the country. CAPE notes the danger inherent in allowing the federal government’s hand to slip into the administration of private institutions:
The bill represents an unprecedented degree of federal control of private schools that threatens their autonomy and puts them between a rock and a hard place: accept the federal intrusion in policies and practices or give up participation in federal programs that benefit students and their teachers. By using even limited involvement in federal programs as the pathway for regulating schools, the bill establishes a dangerous precedent for federal control of private education in the future.
A recent report by the U.S. Department of Education found that 31 states have some policy on restraint and/or seclusion and 15 of the remaining states are currently working towards legislation regulating the use of seclusion techniques, especially with special needs children. Since the House bill requires regulation of disciplinary actions within two years, some fear the federal government’s intrusion in the matter will hinder current advancements in protecting children. As Rep. John Kline stated in his remarks opposing the House bill:
It would do a disservice to the safety of our children and their teachers for Congress to hastily take action that either undercuts existing efforts at the local level or delays implementation of state-based reforms. While ignoring the warnings reported by the GAO is not an option, taking action before we have all the facts is equally problematic. There are dangers to federal overreach, including this bill’s abandonment of longstanding precedent that prevents federal education mandates from being imposed on private schools.
While student safety should always be considered, policymakers must avoid unnecessary and overbearing federal intrusion into the daily administration and policies of local schools. Empowering those closest to the student is critical for maintaining school discipline and making decisions most appropriate to individual student needs.
Sarah Torre currently is a member of the Young Leaders Program at the Heritage Foundation. For more information on interning at Heritage, please visit: http://www.heritage.org/about/departments/ylp.cfm