By Rebecca LaFlure
Killeen Daily Herald
Toni Price still feels angry when she thinks back on the day her foster son died after being restrained by his special education teacher during a dispute over lunch.
She hopes new legislation passed by the U.S. House last week could help prevent the deaths of other students across the country.
"(The teacher) wasn't doing her job. She took a child's life," Price said. "I'm really glad something is being done."
The House last week approved legislation, 262-153, that for the first time would establish federal standards to regulate the uses of seclusion and restraint techniques in schools. Similar legislation now awaits a vote by the Senate.
Though written by members of both parties, some Republicans questioned implementing federal regulations in a state-run education system.
The vote came a year after Price testified before Congress on her foster son's behalf. Fourteen-year-old Cedric Napoleon died on March 7, 2002, at Manor Middle School in Killeen after his 230-pound behavior management teacher placed him facedown on the floor and sat on him. The death was ruled a homicide, but no charges were ever filed.
"Cedric wasn't hurting himself or putting anyone in danger," Price told the Herald Wednesday. "If this (legislation) was in place, I believe he would still be alive."
The Keeping All Kids Safe Act would limit physical restraint or locked seclusion only to situations where there is "imminent danger," would require staff to be trained and would completely outlaw chemical restraints that are not part of a physician's prescription.
The bill would also prohibit school staff from including restraint or seclusion as planned interventions in students' education plans, and would require schools to notify parents immediately after incidents when restraint or seclusion was used.
For all students
DeEtta Culbertson, spokeswoman for the Texas Education Agency, said that Texas law already includes most of the act's provisions. The main difference is the state law applies only to special education students and the federal law would apply to all students.
She said the act would also expand data collection and reporting requirements.
"We are reviewing the material from resolution to see how it might impact Texas," Culbertson said.
Previously there were no federal laws that regulated the uses of seclusion and restraint in public or private schools. Laws vary at the state level, and 19 states have no laws at all.
U.S. Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., who authored the bill, was prompted by a 2009 report conducted by the U.S. Government Accountability Office that found widespread allegations of abusive seclusion and restraint techniques in the nation's schools.
The report examined 10 cases in detail, and in four of them, the abuses were fatal.
Price told her foster son's story during a congressional hearing May 19.
According to Price's testimony, Cedric's special education teacher refused to feed him lunch on the morning of his death as punishment after he stopped doing his schoolwork. Around 2:30 p.m. Cedric, who still hadn't eaten, tried to leave the classroom.
The 6-foot-tall teacher forced the 129-pound boy back down into his chair.
Cedric struggled while being held in his chair so the teacher pinned him facedown on the floor and sat on him. He stopped moving, but the teacher continued to restrain him, Price said. Finally, the teacher and a teacher's aide placed Cedric back in his chair and wiped drool off his lip. The limp child slumped over and slipped out of his chair, Price testified.
Cedric was dead by the time Price arrived at the school. His death was ruled a homicide, but the teachers involved in the restraint never faced trial. A Bell County grand jury decided to take no action against them after an investigation in August 2002.
The Killeen Independent School District has since changed its policy so no student can be restrained on the floor, and all instances must be thoroughly documented, said KISD spokeswoman Leslie Gilmore.
Employees certified to restrain must go through Nonviolent Crisis Intervention training, and parents are notified by phone and in a letter each time restraint techniques are used. Students can still be restrained while sitting or standing up, Gilmore said.
District officials could not comment on how the proposed federal legislation would affect their procedures, according to a statement.
KISD Superintendent Robert Muller said restraint techniques are only used as a last resort to protect other students or staff members. Price insists Cedric did not pose a threat to himself or others.
Price still works as a foster parent in Killeen, and said she will continue to tell Cedric's story to whoever will hear it.
"Cedric was a young man and his life was cut short," Price said. "My hope is it will save other children and parents from having to go through similar grief."
Contact Rebecca LaFlure at firstname.lastname@example.org or (254) 501-7548. Follow her on Twitter at KDHeducation.