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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

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Kenji Linane-Booey: Legislature needs to end isolation and restraint in schools

Kenji Linane-Booey

By Kenji Linane-Booey

Engrossed 2nd Substitute House Bill (E2SHB) 1479 removes isolation as well as chemical and mechanical restraint in Washington’s public schools while at the same time establishing a clear definition for isolation and restraint, improving oversight, protecting calm down and peace rooms, and adding professional development for de-escalation practices. This bill is for all Washington state students, families and educators. However, isolation and restraint disproportionately impact our students of color and our students in special education programs.

It’s students like Erin Carden’s child who, unfortunately, have had to live the exact story E2SHB 1479 is trying to prevent. “My child was born with a developmental disability. He struggled to communicate and process at the level of his peers. During his 18 years in public school, he experienced routine and violent administration of isolation and restraint in classrooms that should have been a refuge of learning and community. The first use of I&R (isolation and restraint) my child experienced was in the second grade, when he was lying on the floor instead of joining an activity. He was put in handcuffs and suspended to ‘teach him a lesson.’ ” I&R is used routinely when schools lack training and staffing to implement effective interventions for youth who struggle in school. People with disabilities and their families are begging legislators, educators and our communities to understand the devastating reality of isolation and restraint.

Educators also suffer social-emotional damage from having to apply these practices. In 2021, Spokane Public Schools officially removed all forced isolation rooms and banned the practice of forced isolation. Eric Warwick has served as a paraeducator in multiple districts, including Spokane Public Schools, and has seen what proper training and professional development can do for students and educators. “I have worked in other districts where staff were not given the necessary PD (professional development) that District 81 provided. Staff routinely isolated and restrained students, putting everyone in danger. Staff and students there did not feel safe and did not feel supported. As a survivor of repeated restraint and isolation practices, I know it is time to bring the progress District 81 has made statewide.”

Our students deserve a safe learning environment where they are challenged to grow into productive human beings. Studies like the one done recently by the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington and Disability Rights Washington show that isolation and restraint are not productive methods of handling challenging behavior in the classroom. Every student, staff and community member benefits from successful intervention and de-escalation training. Students who are survivors of isolation and restraint have testified that being isolated and restrained in school prepared them for prison and incarceration as an adult. Supporting E2SHB 1479 is a necessary step in stopping the school-to-prison pipeline.

Kenji Linane-Booey is the Spokane regional field director at League of Education Voters.