"Our staff is fully trained on non-violent crisis intervention and puts student safety first at all times. The safety of all students is important and remains a top priority," she said.
Rep. George Miller, a California Democrat, proposed national legislation that would create a uniform standard on restraint for the nation's schools – legislation that has failed to even receive a committee vote over the past three years.
Until recently, Miller said, no organization even knew the number of deaths that were occurring on school grounds. He said several advocacy groups spent years tried to assess the toll.
The Coalition Against Institutionalized Child Abuse, an advocacy group, used public records to tally 75 child deaths between 1988 and 2006 that stemmed from the improper use of restraints. A California disability rights organization, Protection and Advocacy, Inc., counted 39 deaths in just that state between 1999 and 2007, all resulting from the use of seclusion or behavioral restraints. A 2009 study by federal auditors reported hundreds of instances between 1990 and 2009 where improper restraint led to injuries, and another study that same year, by the National Disability Rights Network, chronicled dozens of specific cases of young children, many of them autistic, being suffocated or badly injured while being improperly restrained.
There is also little known about how many schools, in how many states, utilize isolation rooms, Miller said. As part of its investigation, ABC News interviewed school children who described the experience of being locked in a seclusion booth as the stuff of nightmares.
"It was dark, there's no windows, you're just stuck in there the whole day," Jordan, an 11-year-old Pennsylvania student, told ABC News. "You felt scared and upset and you were already angry… Even for the bravest kids in the world, it's still really scary."
Hope Kirsch, an Arizona attorney who is representing the Noyes family in their case against the local school district, said she believes the new law will serve as an important first step in ending the use of seclusion rooms in her state.
"This is a victory for parents whose children are victims of this barbaric procedure," Kirsch said. "We would like to see seclusion rooms closed down. The efforts of the Noyes family and Rep. Kelly Townsend, along with Governor Brewer signing the bill, have paved the way toward the ultimate goal of eradicating this inhumane treatment of the most vulnerable population."