Students help win passage of new law to limit use of restraint, seclusion of schoolchildren

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Four students in Virginia Commonwealth University's Master of Social Work program played an instrumental role in helping win passage of a new law that requires new rules to govern the use of restraint and seclusion of students in Virginia's public schools.

The bill, SB 782, which was approved by the General Assembly with bipartisan support and signed into law by Gov. Terry McAuliffe last week, mandates that the state Board of Education draw up regulations for the practices of restraint and seclusion in elementary and secondary schools in Virginia's 134 public school districts.

"It's a great step forward for Virginia's public schools and for ensuring the safety of students and teachers," said Megan Kettyle, a master's student in the School of Social Work, who took part in the effort to pass the bill as an intern with Greater Richmond SCAN (Stop Child Abuse Now).

Following complaints that Virginia schoolchildren — particularly those with autism or intellectual disabilities — were getting hurt while being restrained and secluded in locked rooms, a coalition of disability advocacy and child abuse prevention advocacy organizations began researching the topic and studying how best to solve the problem.

"Virginia basically got a grade of ‘F’ because we're the kind of state where local school districts can decide what kind of policy they want or even whether they want to have a policy at all," said coalition member Ian Danielsen, an adjunct instructor in the School of Social Work and the program coordinator for the Child Advocacy Center at Greater Richmond SCAN. "Many districts don't have any policy, many districts have poor policies and some districts have good policies. But there are massive inconsistencies."

Last year, the coalition supported a bill passed by the General Assembly that directed the Commission on Youth to investigate the issue and make recommendations. This year, the coalition pushed for passage of the legislation — identical bills sponsored by Sen. Barbara Favola of Arlington and Del. Richard "Dickie" Bell of Staunton — to require new regulations.

Kettyle, along with fellow School of Social Work master's students Rebecca King and Ines Rozenblum, and Lauren Weidner, a 2014 alumna of the program, supported the effort as interns with organizations in the coalition. Kettyle, Rozenblum and Weidner interned with Greater Richmond SCAN, and King interned with the Arc of Virginia.

In those roles, the students performed research, provided organizational support and directly advocated in support of the legislation to individual members of the General Assembly.

"Their efforts went way beyond shadowing others and taking minutes at meetings," Danielsen said. "Each was part of thinking through strategy, facilitating communication among coalition members and doing the ongoing work of educating legislators and others about the importance of the legislation. They are part of the fiber of this new law, a law that will make disciplinary practices toward students more trauma-informed, prevention-minded, and physically and psychologically safe."

Kettyle said she never imagined that she would find herself doing legislative advocacy with lawmakers, but was proud to have had the opportunity.

"It was really powerful. I'd never done anything like that before," she said. "I was sitting in an Education Subcommittee meeting and one of the delegates, when it was his turn to speak, said pretty much verbatim one of the things I'd told him [about the need for the legislation]. That was really powerful for me."

Weidner, who graduated in 2014, said it was exciting to have played a part in the bill becoming law.

"The passage of this bill is an important step in protecting the rights and safety of students in Virginia public schools," she said. "It was an honor to be a part of this experience and have a voice for children who are unable to be heard."


Feature image at top: Students in VCU's Master of Social Work program – including, from left, Ines Rozenblum, Megan Kettyle and 2014 graduate Lauren Weidner – helped work to win passage of a new law requiring regulation of the use of restraint and seclusion of students in Virginia's public schools. Another student, Rebecca King, also participated in the effort. 


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