Dr. Mary Elizabeth Christian didn’t know her child was being restrained in an East Baton Rouge Parish school until the principal made an offhand comment about it. Though it happened 15 years ago, her daughter still gets upset when she sees a chair that looks like the one in which she was restrained.
On Wednesday, Dr. Christian testified before a Senate committee in support of a bill that would require schools to install cameras in special needs classrooms if requested by a child’s guardian. Several other parents with special needs children testified about the heartbreak of seeing bruises on their children, who were unable to communicate what happened to them.
“My beautiful curly headed girl had been strapped to a chair every day,” Dr. Christian said. “I think this bill is another step in protecting our children. Children who cannot speak for themselves and are vulnerable.”
Dr. Christian’s daughter, Grace, is now 21 and has autism, epilepsy and a neuromuscular disorder. She was a happy preschooler, but that changed. “She is minimally verbal and could not share with us what she was upset about,” Dr. Christian said. “I’ve never forgotten the day when we were in an individualized education plan meeting and the principal proudly said that Grace was making social progress because they were not having to strap her down nearly as often as they had in the past.”
In 2011, the Louisiana Legislature passed Act 328, which says that restraint and seclusion should only be used as a last resort. Louisiana law also requires school systems to notify parents when restraint and seclusion are used on their child. “This bill is another step in protecting our children and knowing what goes on in our classrooms,” Dr. Christian said.
Senate Bill 86, by Sen. Franklin Foil (R-Baton Rouge), advanced out of the Senate Education Committee without opposition Thursday. The bill is headed to the Senate Finance Committee. The chair of the education committee, Sen. Cleo Fields (D-Baton Rouge), thanked parents for their emotional testimony. “It is a problem and hopefully this bill will get through the process and address the problem,” he said. “This is just one step in the right direction.”