For Disabled Student, Legal Protection Could Have Prevented Abuse

Advocates for students with disabilities lobby for HB 2444
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TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) - At a Statehouse event hosted by a coalition of advocates for the disabled, Trey Morgan spoke out publicly about his ordeal for the first time.

The lanky 19-year-old spoke eloquently, if bitterly, about the excessive punishments he had to endure during most of his school years as an autistic student with Asperger's Syndrome.

"At one point during middle school I had a fairly heavyset teacher force me down onto the ground, and pretty much sit on me, trying to restrain me," he said.

For almost every day of his student life, Morgan said, teachers who didn't want to deal with him put him away in seclusion.

"It made me feel horrible, it made me feel pretty much not human," he said.

Kansas has voluntary guidelines on how a teacher could restrain or seclude an unruly child or teen with a disability.

Advocates for the disabled say that's the problem.

"We did adopt voluntary guidelines [but] we don't know they're being followed or not," Mike Oxford, Director of the Topeka Independent Living Resource Center, said. "They are not enforceable. There's supposed to be data-collection and reporting. I've heard that's real spotty."

The Big Tent Coalition and advocates for the disabled want those voluntary guidelines to become law and are calling on lawmakers to pass HB 2444. The law would limit how teachers and staff can restrain or seclude a difficult child who has a disability.

The bill also provides for training of all school employees and mandates parent notification of such use.

House representatives gave the bill first round approval Tuesday afternoon and will cast a final up or down vote Wednesday.

If voted up, the bill would then go on to the Senate. But opponents say passing it would create an undue burden on educators and administrators.

"As we're hearing it's an unfunded mandate," Tom Krebs, the governmental relations specialist with the Kansas Association of School Boards, said. "Districts will be required to spend money. We believe, two, it opens up our member districts to possible litigation."

Thirdly, Krebs said, he doesn't believe there is enough evidence a law would prevent abuse. "We've had guidelines since 2007, they're working, and things are improving given where they might have been four to five years ago," he said.

The Division of the Budged stated in a fiscal note that changing the rules won't make or break the state financially.

But for Trey Morgan, the effect will be immeasurable for teachers and students.

"It'll make them more responsible for their actions," he said.