At a time when Americans are increasingly worried about external threats to the health and safety of children in schools, state-sanctioned violence at the hands of educators, who are expected to support and protect students, is too often overlooked. Every day across the country, barbaric discipline practices, including corporal punishment, seclusion, and restraint, are used in the classroom, threatening the physical and mental well-being of countless students. According to a 50-state scan that Ed Trust released in 2020, only 15 states have legislation to both outlaw corporal punishment and establish parameters for the use of restraint to prevent physical harm. Federal leadership is desperately needed to eliminate these practices, and Congress currently has the opportunity to do so by enacting the Protecting Our Students in Schools Act and the Keeping All Students Safe Act.

According to the 2017-18 Civil Rights Data Collection (CRDC), nearly 70,000 children across nearly 4,000 public schools in the U.S. were paddled, spanked, or subjected to other forms of physical punishment, and more than 100,000 children were subjected to restraint or seclusion. More than 20 states still do not prohibit corporal punishment, and all states still allow restraint and seclusion, often without clear restrictions on the use of prone restraints, which restrict breathing and can be deadly. Students of color and students with disabilities are disproportionately likely to receive these forms of punishment. Although the significant dangers these practices present to students’ physical and mental health are well known, many states have failed to pass meaningful legislation that would protect students from physical harm in the classroom.

The Protecting Our Students in Schools Act, introduced  by Sen. Chris Murphy and Rep. Suzanne Bonamici, would federally prohibit corporal punishment in our nation’s public schools, which negatively impacts students’ physical, mental, cognitive, social-emotional, and academic outcomes. The Keeping All Students Safe Act, introduced last week by Sens. Chris Murphy, Bernie Sanders, and Patty Murray, and Reps. Don Beyer and Bobby Scott, would put in place life-saving restrictions to protect students from dangerous seclusion and restraint discipline practices in schools. Combined, these two pieces of legislation would help create physically safe and emotionally supportive environments, which is something students deserve and need to thrive.

In addition to eliminating these harmful discipline practices, both the Protecting Our Students in Schools Act and the Keeping All Students Safe Act also include important enforcement protections, as well as crucial investments to support states and school districts in improving school climate by implementing evidence-based approaches, such as restorative justice, which is shown to create safer schools and improve disciplinary and academic outcomes for students. Helping students learn to handle conflicts also builds valuable interpersonal skills that can be used beyond the classroom.

Simply put: These harmful practices cannot continue. Passing the Protecting Our Students in Schools Act and the Keeping All Students Safe Act would be a pivotal step toward protecting students in schools from physical harm, and Ed Trust strongly encourages Congress to act with expedience.