Meeting an old friend after a while can sometimes feel strange or awkward. The first few hours are filled with catching up and filling each other in on what’s been going on. A similar pattern happens in policy. Between sessions, bills and their authors reunite with their supporters, and there is a period of “catch-up” that takes place. For this upcoming legislative session, we want to re-introduce you all to our legislative priorities and catch you all up on what has happened, what’s happening, and what will happen with No Kids in Cuffs.
What does No Kids in Cuffs mean, and where did the idea come from? No Kids in Cuffs symbolizes the closing of a public policy loophole that strips officers of their agency and forces young children into dangerous situations.
The idea was born out of a conversation with Sheriff Eric Fagan during our Candidate Q&A series. A question we asked each candidate is what they would do to mitigate the entrance and effects of the school-to-prison pipeline. Sheriff Fagan stated that, if elected, he would end the handcuffing of children in his region. After our interview, we began researching why children were handcuffed, where, and who was doing the handcuffing. We soon learned that children as young as 5 years old were placed in handcuffs for behaviors such as stimming, refusing to join the class for story time, throwing pieces of tissue paper, and, violating the dress code. After our research, we knew that something had to be done!
A Child in Handcuffs
One story I come back to every time I revisit the issue of restraints is the story of an elementary student with Autism. This student removed himself from story-time and sat in a cubby hole. His teacher feared for his safety and removed him from the cubby, but he refused, the officer was called to remove him from the cubby hole, and once that was done the child began crying and screaming. The child was not cooperating with the teacher or officer and did not want to re-join storytime, but rather than allowing him to self-regulate, the choice was made to restrain the child, not once, but twice. Before the child was restrained you can hear an officer asking him if he wants the handcuffs, and the child pleaded to be let go. After being released from handcuffs he was given a tissue, which he tore up and threw in the direction of the teacher, this was seen as a threat and he was restrained once more, but this time he was kneeled on. His screams were audible as he begged repeatedly to be let go. This story is what motivates our work.
No Kids in Cuffs was introduced by Representative Lacey Hull in the 87th legislative session as H.B. 2975. It was jointly authored by Representatives Oliverson, Cain, Moody, and Bernal and co-authored by Representatives Allen, Dominguez, Harless, Jetton, Lopez, Meza, Morales Shaw, Reynolds, and Rosenthal. While the bill was filed in March of 2021, we had till May to see it pass both the House and the Senate. On April 6th the House Public Education Committee heard testimony from Minaret Foundation and No Kids in Cuff’s coalition members supporting the measure, and then on May 11th, the bill was passed through the House with little opposition.
Bills that pass from the House must repeat the same steps in the Senate. This includes getting scheduled for a Senate Public Education Committee hearing, but by the time H.B. 2975 was sent over to the Senate, there was no time. No Kids in Cuffs died in the Senate, but not without putting up a fight. Representatives and Senators tried their best to resuscitate the bill. Originally by tacking it on as an amendment that was ultimately stripped, and then by reintroducing it as H.B. 111 in a special session, but regardless the bill did not move. Although No Kids in Cuffs was ultimately not passed in the 87th or the special session, we are confident that the future is bright.
What is the next step?
After seeing how policy can bring people together, we’ve begun the process of taking No Kids in Cuffs federal. What does this mean? A resolution recognizing the negative effects of restraints on children, educators, staff, and officers. From our time studying the policy, we learned that children undergo physical, emotional, and mental repercussions after the use of restraints in schools. They develop trauma, anxiety, depression, and PTSD, and can have short or long-term effects on sleep, socializing, and academics. Through our research we also learned that these effects are not only felt by the children who are victims of restraint, rather they are felt by the children who witness the restraint happen, the educators, staff, and officers as well.
These bystanders develop what is known as vicarious (or secondary) trauma, which manifests similarly to primary trauma or PTSD. This resolution is not only a way for our country to highlight these effects but also an educational tool. Currently, federal restraint policy has been partisan, but this issue is one that should transcend party lines. The No Kids in Cuffs resolution will be used as a way to unite legislators together– from both the left and the right- behind the issue of restraints.
Thanks to the tremendous work of our coalition partners, Representatives, and Senators, No Kids in Cuffs has not lost its spirit or direction. While the bill did not pass in the 87th legislative session, we are seeking its reintroduction in the 88th legislative session. This new bill will still be No Kids in Cuffs, and we will continue to work with our former partners with some amazing new additions. The largest difference between these two sessions is what has happened: while we have waited for the 88th legislative session, parents have been sitting at home waiting for their children to hop off the school bus, but instead of joy they experience anxiety because they do not know if their child was restrained again.
The anxiety, fear, and guilt that these parents experience are what have motivated us. Through our experiences and conversations, we have kept these parents at the forefront, amplifying their voices and their stories. These parents are in all of our communities, they are our neighbors, they worship next to us, and they deserve to be represented.