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School should be a safe and positive environment for kids, focused on helping all students learn and grow. But there are many cases where the use of restraints and seclusion in non-emergency situations is robbing students, especially those with disabilities, of their safety, dignity and opportunity to learn.

Ensuring that our special education system unlocks the amazing potential of our most vulnerable students is a top priority of mine. I have gathered feedback from parents and educators from all across our state, both in person and online. While I heard of many success stories, I was saddened and shocked to learn that these inhumane and barbaric non-emergency restraint and seclusion practices are still taking place in a number of our schools. I heard this from literally hundreds of parents.

Last year, I chaired the Special Education Reform Task Force, which issued recommendations that will improve learning opportunities for special education students, helping to better prepare them to live self-determined, independent lives. Ending the use of non-emergency restraint and seclusion practices in Michigan schools was one of the most critical recommendations of the task force.

We see some schools that are being proactive and are already seeing amazing results. One Michigan school district I know of transitioned away from the old practices of the past, and embraced Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports. In just a few years, they have seen a 40 percent reduction in suspensions, which accounts for over 3,000 additional instruction days for students.

This is a behavioral issue, but it’s also an academic issue. That’s why this year’s budget includes resources to expand professional development of school staff in evidence-based behavior management practices.

The State Board of Education adopted a policy against non-emergency restraint and seclusion more than a decade ago after a Michigan student suffocated and died in restraints. Unfortunately, that policy serves as a recommendation and schools are not required to follow it. We still regularly hear of students being locked in what amount to closets and sensory deprivation rooms for hours on end, sometimes having to defecate and urinate on the floor or on themselves.

It should also be pointed out that practices of this nature are no longer allowed in hospitals, and are heavily regulated in jails and prisons. The only citizens who have no legal protections against non-emergency restraint and seclusion are our kids while they are at school. There is not even a requirement to tell parents when it happens.

Legislation is moving through the Michigan Legislature, but we are almost out of time this session. If this legislation isn’t approved this month, the entire process will have to begin again, which would be an incredible disservice to our children. They deserve better.

Ending these practices will open up a whole new world of opportunity for our students with disabilities, giving them access to community and academics. The time to end these practices is long overdue. Every day they are allowed to continue is another day where students with great potential throughout Michigan will be locked up instead of learning. So I encourage all Michiganians to join me in advocating for safe schools for all students and to support this legislation to end non-emergency restraint and seclusion practices in Michigan schools.

Brian Calley is the lieutenant governor of Michigan.

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