4 wrong (and 2 right) ways schools are using ‘isolation rooms’

Schools are getting sued and investigated for improperly secluding students
By: | November 21, 2019
The practice of teachers isolating students in school isolation rooms is under scrutiny as many districts are accused of doing so improperly.gettyimages.com: KatarzynaBialasiewicz

Parents and nonprofit groups are suing districts for teachers isolating students improperly in school isolation rooms. When used correctly, these spaces are meant to decrease classroom disruptions and prevent potentially violent incidents from occurring, without harming the secluded child.

In Illinois, teachers have violated state law by isolating children who refuse to do classwork, swear, spill milk or throw Legos, the Chicago Tribune and ProPublica Illinois reported.  

Illinois educators can seclude students who pose a safety threat to themselves or others. But teachers have used seclusion for convenience, out of frustration or as punishment, reported the publications, which documented 20,000 incidents from the 2017-18 school year.

From DA: K12 sensory rooms offer safe space for special needs

In Wisconsin, lawmakers are considering new rules for when schools can isolate or restrain students to calm them, The Neighbor reported.

An advocate for special needs students told the newspaper that the proposal would ban teachers from locking a seclusion room door like “a cage” and also prohibit restraining methods, such as “lying on someone’s back” or “pushing them into the ground.”

Related: Teachers are acting against their values or witnessing peers engaging in behavior counter to their values

In Missouri, a parent sued Columbia Public Schools for allegedly keeping her son—a kindergartner who was later diagnosed with autism and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder—isolated in a room for hours when he misbehaved during the 2016-17 school year, the Columbia Daily Tribune reported. The parent also accuses the district of refusing to consider the child for special ed.

The boy recently relocated to another district that does not isolate him when he misbehaves, the attorney who represents the family told the newspaper.

Related: Meditation at school leads to better behavior and more focused learners

In California, an independent expert is now recommending changes to Pasadena USD’s policies for treating students with behavioral issues, Pasadena Star-News reported. A 2016 class-action lawsuit alleged that Pasadena USD edcuators sent students with behavioral issues to a separate campus where officials bound them in physical restraints inside padded school seclusion rooms called “boring room.” 

Using safe spaces instead of school isolation rooms

Specially designed spaces called sensory rooms can help special needs students feel more comfortable and empowered in the classroom, District Administration reported.

In New Jersey, classroom disruption at Woodbury City Public School District has dropped significantly since educators there created sensory rooms that include dark castles filled with blankets to help students regain a sense of their body in relation to nearby objects, Director of Special Services Jeff Adams told DA.

Related: How to prevent and respond to school fights

In several Baltimore-area schools, students who act out can visit “mindful moment” rooms where staff let them talk uninterrupted about their feelings, DA reported. A staff member then leads the student through breathing exercises, meditation and silent reflection.