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Tennessee bill letting SSOs restrain special ed. students originated in Hamilton County

From NewsChannel 9: A new Tennessee bill sponsored by a state lawmaker from Hamilton County would allow law enforcement officers to use mechanical restraints, such as belts and handcuffs, on students with disabilities.


But that bill is now coming under fire in Chattanooga.


HB0127 says “a school resource officer, school security officer, or other law enforcement officer who is trained and certified for completing a behavior intervention training program may use a mechanical restraint on a student receiving special education services in an emergency situation.”


The bill does not set limits on the extent of which officers can restrain students, or add restrictions to ensure the student is safe. No documentation to parents is outlined in the bill.

The Executive Director of the Chattanooga Autism Center, David Buck, says what’s happening in Nashville could have a huge ripple effect on the people he serves here in Chattanooga.


“We’re talking about children who are not evil, not bad people,” says Buck. “They don’t need to be put in cuffs they need support and help. To say I’m concerned is an understatement. I’m quite positive that it’s going to lead to an unintended but abuse.”

The bill’s sponsor, House District 26 Rep. Greg Martin (R) of Hamilton County, tells us the bill came at the request of Hamilton County School Board Attorney Scott Bennett.


Rep. Martin says:

The purpose of the bill is to protect special needs students in an emergency situation from harming themselves or others. This bill allows trained School Security Officers (SSOs) to restrain a student in an emergency situation in the same manner that a School Resource Officer or other law enforcement officers are permitted to restrain students in a similar emergency situation.

The Hamilton County Sheriff’s Office has not been able to staff all the needs of the school system with SROs. Consequently, the school system has pivoted to employee trained SSOs to meet their security needs. No one wants to see any student placed in restraints, but unfortunately there are situations where it may be necessary in order to ensure everyone’s safety. This bill simply helps the school system to continue to serve and protect our most vulnerable children when an emergency situation arises.

Back in January, Attorney Bennett elaborated on why he felt the need to push for the bill.


The bill is intended to address an inconsistency in the law regarding who may use mechanical restraints, meaning handcuffs, to secure special education students. As the law stands right now, school resource officers may use mechanical restraints whereas school security officers may not.

This distinction is peculiar, in our opinion, because, at least in Hamilton County, school security officers receive all the training that school resource officers receive plus, starting this spring, they will receive additional training in de-escalation.

This issue came to our attention this past year when an SSO had to respond to an emergency situation. This was one single incident in the 18 months of having SSOs in our schools, but, after consulting with the legal department at the Tennessee Department of Education and the State Board of Education, we felt it was important to clarify the law.

To be clear, restraints of any kind on any student are always a last resort, and employees of HCS are to use restraints only when a student’s safety is at risk. For this reason, Hamilton County Schools has placed greater emphasis on Tier I supports across the district with the aim of reducing violent behaviors and the resulting need for restraints.

We reached out to Hamilton County Schools Wednesday, who gave us the following statement:

“This bill would allow district employed SSOs to employ measures to protect special needs students from harming themselves or others that are currently available to School Resource Deputies (SRDs) and other law enforcement officers.”

Even though state law already gives them the option, Hamilton County Sheriff Austin Garrett recently told us

“I have no plans to train my deputies to restrain special needs students.”

Back at the Autism Center, Dave Buck says he fears injury and possible abuse if officers who are not properly trained for de-escalation restrain a child with special needs.


“Autistic individuals are more likely to have meltdowns and things that are not within their control that dissipate over time. If someone doesn’t realize that situation, or is just having a bad day, they might interpret that as an emergency,” says Buck.

He says the main solution is training officers to properly deescalate meltdowns. He thinks conversations between legislators and hands on special needs organizations would be beneficial.


The Chattanooga Autism Center will be hosting an Autism Day Celebration on April 1 and the 10th Annual Chattanooga Autism Celebration Walk on April 15. Learn more here.


The Senate Education Committee today differed discussion about the bill to March 22.