For years, Sen. Chris Murphy has introduced federal legislation that would limit the use of restraint and seclusion in schools, and for years the proposals have fallen far short of passage.

Yet, Murphy says he sees progress on the issue. When he introduced the latest version of the Keeping All Students Safe Act this spring, he had several new cosponsors, including Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-VT, who leads the Senate committee overseeing education. Meanwhile, he has observed gradual change at the state level, with New York on Monday establishing new restrictions on restraint and seclusion.

In Connecticut, the state legislature this year considered a bill that would have limited restraint and banned seclusion, though it did not ultimately pass. Some school systems, including Waterbury most recently, have already taken steps to curb restraint and seclusion in their districts.

Nationally, students are restrained and secluded more than 2,000 time each day, on average, with Black students and those with autism and other developmental disabilities disproportionately affected. Restraint refers to physically holding back students' limbs to limit their movement, while seclusion refers to the practice of locking students in rooms they're not able to leave.

On Monday, CT Insider asked Murphy about his interest in restraint and seclusion, the politics around the issue and what it might ultimately take to  change how schools treat students in crisis.

How did the subject of restraint and seclusion come to your attention? And how did that become something that rose above the fray and that you were interested in putting time and energy into?

A couple of ways. So maybe five years ago, there was a high-profile story out of Middletown, about the use of what the school there called "scream rooms." And that story just ripped me to my core. At the time, I had kids about the same age as the kids described in that story, and the idea that anybody would think that the right thing for a kid in crisis was to lock them in a room, let them tear the walls and the doors until they were so exhausted and so upset that they finally stopped screaming, it was unacceptable. So that certainly was something that caught my attention.

Admittedly, my wife spent 10 years as a legal-aid lawyer working for kids in need, and she for 10 years represented special-needs kids in schools. And so I also heard through her a lot of these stories about how a lot of teachers just didn't know how to handle these kids. So their default, understandably, was to put hands on the kids or to tie the kids' hands up to try to prevent somebody from getting hurt. My wife was always just very concerned that there wasn't enough training and education to teachers and administrators about how to deal with kids with disabilities and kids who had predilections towards violence. So leading into the story about the scream rooms I had heard a lot about this from Cathy, and then it was after the story about the scream rooms that I started the process of introducing KASSA.

I know it's been somewhat hard to get traction at the federal level. But just today, the New York State Board of Regents voted to limit the use of restraint and to ban seclusion altogether. Does it feel like there is some momentum on this issue?

There is undoubtedly momentum. Connecticut has been getting better. We still have a ways to go. I don't have the list of states in front of me, but I know New York's not the only state that has made progress. But I really hope that this doesn't become a red-state, blue-state issue. Sometimes because blue states are doing something, red states think that it must be bad by definition, and I don't know why we just can't come to a conclusion that, except in the most serious circumstances, we shouldn't be putting our hands on kids in schools. 

So I admittedly have struggled to find Republicans to work with me on this issue. And I will continue to try to explain to Republicans why this matters. But it hasn't been easy.

What are those conversations like?

I think at the federal level, there's increasingly an allergy from the right to have any federal intervention in local schools, and that is an abandonment of the way that the Republican Party has historically looked at the federal government and education policy. The civil rights acts, which protected kids' rights in schools, were supported by a whole bunch of Republicans. Frankly, the most significant resistance to a lot of the federal government's early intervention in schools, from a civil rights perspective, was from Democrats. But today there's a little bit of a litmus test in the Republican Party that the federal government should have zero to do with what's happening with kids in schools.

And I think there should be limits to what the federal government says about what happens in schools, but on the issue of civil rights, I think we still have a relevant role to play. And there's just no doubt to me that the issue of seclusion and restraints, because it tends to happen most often to disabled kids and to black boys, is a civil rights issue.

Teachers have also been unsure where they fall on this. [Note: Both nationally and in Connecticut, teachers unions have generally declined to support legislation that would limit restraint and seclusion, though some have recently expressed greater openness.] What are those conversations like, and what do you think of some of objections that teachers groups have raised?

I think this is a really scary world for teachers. Kids are acting out in more violent ways than ever before. And I can totally understand teachers who don't want to have government limit their ability to be flexible in the response. I also think it's it's hard to imagine a world in which you aren't allowed, at the level you are today, to put your hands on kids.

But there are better interventions. There are proven de-escalatory programs that you can use with kids, and I think if we just do a better job of teaching administrators and teachers how to engage in deescalation, they will find that they don't need the physical restraints as much as they do today.