Death of autistic boy after being restrained by staff at El Dorado Hills special needs school prompts Frazier bill

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AB1172 requires greater oversight of nonpublic schools

SACRAMENTO – Assemblymember Jim Frazier (D-Discovery Bay) has introduced a bill to better protect special needs students at nonpublic schools by expanding local and state oversight of these schools.

Frazier, chair of the Assembly Select Committee on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities, is authoring AB 1172 in response to the November 2018 death of a 13-year-old autistic student after he was improperly restrained by staff at a nonpublic school in El Dorado Hills.

“This boy’s death was a tragedy that should never have happened,” Frazier said. “These schools serve the most vulnerable members of our society. An investigation revealed this school routinely employed practices and procedures that were incorrect and exposed students to severe harm. AB 1172 will help ensure that local education authorities and the state are able to more closely monitor these nonpublic schools and enable early intervention if problems develop.”

Following the boy’s death, a California Department of Education (CDE) investigation found that staff at Guiding Hands School employed improper practices that put the special needs students in the school’s care at risk.

These improper practices included a face-down restraint technique that results in the loss of consciousness. Staff used this technique on the boy, which rendered him unresponsive. The boy died a day later at UC Davis Medical Center.

In addition to the use of inappropriate restraints, the CDE investigation found Guiding Hands staff failed to follow behavior intervention plans and to properly use behavior emergency reports.

Nonpublic schools are private, nonsectarian schools that contract with local educational agencies (LEA) to serve special and exceptional needs students.

AB 1172 amends the California Education Code to allow the CDE to immediately suspend or revoke the certification of a nonpublic school if the CDE finds that the health or safety of a student has been compromised or is in danger of being compromised.

It also requires nonpublic schools to report within one day to its LEA and the CDE any incident involving law enforcement or child protective services.

Other provisions of AB 1172 include:

  • requiring LEAs to conduct at least one on-site monitoring visit per year;
  • mandating that a qualified behavior analyst be on-site when serving students with severe behavioral needs or who are on behavioral intervention plans; and
  • requiring the administrators of nonpublic schools to obtain a valid education credential.

AB 1172 is sponsored by State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond.

“Tragic events related to serving our most vulnerable population of students in nonpublic schools have illuminated the need for greater clarity and additional statutory requirements,” Thurmond said. “I am proud to Sponsor AB 1172 to add additional safeguards and accountability to ensure the safety of our students while they are attending nonpublic schools. It would be an injustice to the families we serve if we did not do everything within our authority to ensure that students are placed in an environment where their safety is the number one priority of those who have been entrusted with their care.”

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Assemblymember Frazier represents the 11th Assembly District, which encompasses a large cross section of the Delta in Central Solano, Eastern Contra Costa and Southern Sacramento counties, and includes the communities of Antioch, Bethel Island, Birds Landing, Brentwood, Byron, Collinsville, Discovery Bay, Fairfield, Isleton, Knightsen, Locke, Oakley, Pittsburg (partial), Rio Vista, Suisun City, Travis AFB, Vacaville and Walnut Grove.

CONTACT:   Andrew Bird (916) 319-2011 Andrew.Bird@asm.ca.gov