Congress debates limits on student discipline

The mother of Cedric Price, a special-education student who died at school in 2002, testifies before lawmakers. »Play Video
The mother of Cedric Price, a special-education student who died at school in 2002, testifies before lawmakers as Congress debates its roll in regulating school discipline.

WASHINGTON – How far should teachers go when it comes to discipline? That's the question on Capitol Hill Wednesday.

Some are pushing for a law that would impose federal guidelines limiting how physical that teachers can get when trying to keep their students in line. That's because, in several public cases, that "discipline" has gone too far.

Cedric Price was a special education student. In 2002, he was smothered to death by his eighth grade teacher.

"The teacher put him face down and sat on him," said his mother, testifying in front of lawmakers. "He struggled, and said repeatedly I can't breathe."

Fifteen-year-old Paige Gaydos's mother also talked to lawmakers last May about her daughter. Paige reports being tortured at school by her teacher.

Gaydo's mother Ann told lawmakers that the teacher "grabbed Paige's wrists in her left hand, forced them up between Paige' s shoulder blades, grabbed Paige's left ankle in her right hand, lifted her up off the ground and drove her head first into the ground."

The "Keeping All Students Safe Act" was prompted by a 2009 report that torture-like tactics, mostly on special-needs kids, are not regulated on the federal level.

"Who is going to step in and protect these children?" said one advocate.

The bill would implement minimum federal safety standards for public schools similar to those already in place for hospitals and other community facilities.

While there is bi-partisan support, some Republicans said the federal government shouldn't be involved.

"Seclusion and restraint are never the first choice for promoting positive behavior, but if they must be used, they must be used safely," said Congressman John Kline (R-Minn.). "It is just as clear that states and not the federal government should take the lead on developing and implementing these policies."

The legislation only allows restraint in situations where there is "imminent danger."

So far 31 states have policies to regulate seclusion and restraint. Fifteen states, including Washington, are reviewing laws. In Oregon, the law says there must be a policy, but the wording on those policies is up to each school districts.

A spokesperson for the group "Disability Rights Oregon" said it plans to introduce legislation in Oregon's next session that would parallel the federal law being debated right now.