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Article of Interest - Legislation

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Bridges4Kids LogoBill Aimed at Stopping Restraint Injuries
Kalamazoo Gazette, June 15, 2004
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An autistic teenager dies after being restrained at Parchment High School.

A Saginaw student perishes a few months later in what state Rep. Alexander Lipsey calls "remarkably similar" circumstances.

Lipsey planned today to introduce legislation that would restrict when and how school personnel can physically restrain students and require extensive training for those involved.

"The goal here is to provide not only some rationale on proper restraint practices, but to allow teachers and others in public schools to feel confident how to respond to certain circumstances," the Kalamazoo Democrat said at a news conference Monday.

"The situation at this point is school personnel don't know what it is that's appropriate."

Lipsey's bill would revise the state school code to allow physical restraint only "in an emergency to control unpredictable, spontaneous behavior ... that poses a clear and present danger of serious physical harm to that pupil or others." The "safety and comfort of the pupil shall be maintained" and any restraint beyond 30 minutes must be by order of a physician or registered nurse.

Only teachers, administrators and others given in-depth training may use physical restraint on students, and parents must consent to it in advance. The bill calls for schools to adopt comprehensive plans for using restraint.

The Michael Renner Lewis III Law is named for the 15-year-old who died during the first day of school at Parchment High School last August. Four adults held Michael to the floor for up to 45 minutes when he became combative after fainting, according to a $25 million lawsuit filed by his family.

Parchment Public Schools attorneys responded in court documents that the teen was restrained for the safety of himself and others and disputed the extent of restraint claimed in the lawsuit. A trial is scheduled for next year.

Kalamazoo County Prosecutor Jim Gregart said he will be meeting with the medical examiner and the detective investigating the Michael Renner Lewis case during the next few days to make a ruling on the youth's cause of death.

He said toxicology and lab reports are finally complete. An autopsy report has ruled the death accidental but has indicated that restraint, as well as an underlying heart abnormality, played a role.

Kalamazoo County Sheriff Michael Anderson said he hasn't submitted a charging request because he wanted to review the matter jointly with the prosecutor's office before making a decision.s

A task force formed by the local NAACP helped develop the language for Lipsey's bill.

"We still grieve for Michael, and his death is not in vain," Carey Whitfield, NAACP legal redress chairman, told Michael's mother, Elizabeth Johnson, at the Monday news conference.

Johnson, who spoke emotionally about her son's death during an NAACP news conference in January, declined to comment Monday.

"We miss Michael very much," said family friend Narda McClendon, who wore a T-shirt bearing a large, color photograph of the teen.

"Some of the things that happened to Michael could happen to any child in school systems here in Michigan," said McClendon, who served on the NAACP task force.

The bill is intended to protect students in general school populations as well as special-needs students, Lipsey said.

The Kalamazoo lawmaker said he believes the bill has bipartisan support in the House. The final version could be in combination with a Senate bill introduced by Sen. Beverly Hammerstrom, R-Temperance, to regulate restraint within other institutions not including schools, he said.


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