Ohio

Eye on Education

Locked Away: How Ohio Schools Misuse Seclusion Rooms

Courtney Hergesheimer / The Columbus Dispatch

A seclusion room used in a program for children with emotional disturbances in the Logan-Hocking school district has padding on the floor and in a corner.

Some Ohio children with disabilities are regularly isolated in cell-like rooms, closets or old offices when they behave badly.

The rooms are supposed to be used to calm or restrain children who become violent. But an investigation by StateImpact Ohio and The Columbus Dispatch, found that they’re being misused.

Some teachers use them to punish children. Many times, placing children in the rooms is a convenience for frustrated employees.

And there is little evidence that seclusion helps children but plenty of evidence that it hurts them.

StateImpact Ohio and The Dispatch requested records from 100 districts and charter schools across the state selected to represent a variety of school types and found that 39 set aside rooms to isolate children. Only a handful had rules about how long students should be in them or why, leaving the decision to school employees.


This report is a collaborative effort by The Columbus Dispatch and StateImpact Ohio. See more at Dispatch.com and on the StateImpact Ohio website.

Some teachers say that seclusion rooms are effective tools when used properly.

No law governs seclusion rooms, and the Ohio Department of Education has provided little guidance and virtually no oversight to schools. The department has no idea which districts have seclusion rooms because it has not asked. It does not know how often vulnerable children are locked alone in rooms and does not intend to tell schools to stop doing it.

Sometimes, even parents don’t know when it happens to their children.

“They never mentioned seclusion rooms. I don’t think they ever wanted anyone to know they existed,” said Rosemary Crum, whose son is an adult now and graduated from Pickerington schools. She learned of her son’s seclusion when another mother told her.

“I worry that there are other kids it’s happening to, too,” Crum said.

Several districts surveyed for this report refused to say whether they seclude special-needs children, but others say they need seclusion rooms to keep everyone safe at school. Advocates for the disabled argue that the practice is primitive and traumatic.

“Would I like to send my 6-year-old to school and find out they’ve been locked in a dark room by themselves for five hours? Would we find that acceptable? Absolutely not. There would be national outrage if this was happening to kids without disabilities,” said Barb Trader, the executive director of TASH, a Washington, D.C.-based group that pushes to end seclusion.

Scope Unknown

How we reported the stories

StateImpact Ohio and The Dispatch sought public records related to the seclusion of students in 100 Ohio schools and districts. (You can use Ohio’s public records laws to do the same.)

They were selected to represent all regions of the state and different school types: rural, suburban, small city and large urban. Some were included because they had reported using seclusion to the federal government or had larger populations of students with special needs.

All schools and districts were asked to provide records of the locations of seclusion or time-out rooms, copies of policies that govern the use of the rooms, logs kept of room use or incidents, communication to parents about seclusion rooms and records of staff training related to restraint or seclusion.

Reporters Jennifer Smith Richards, Molly Bloom and Ida Lieszkovszky analyzed hundreds of pages of documents, conducted dozens of interviews and visited seclusion and time-out rooms throughout the state.

In Ohio, seclusion is banned in mental institutions. There are strict limits on the use of seclusion in children’s residential facilities. In public schools, seclusion is perfectly acceptable and wholly unregulated.

Parents in Ohio and nationally who say their children have been traumatized by seclusion in schools have begged for an end to the practice for years.

Karen Boddie pleaded with officials at the Ohio Department of Education to step in when her son was locked alone in Columbus’ Clearbrook Middle School’s seclusion room and denied lunch. The state told Columbus to stop withholding food. It said nothing of the district’s seclusion practices.

“Sometimes, he’d be left in there from the time school started to the time school ended,” she said.

Boddie took him out of school to be tutored at home.

“He had a nervous breakdown. He was so broken I had to climb into the shower and hold him up,” she said. “For 3 1/2 years, he had no socialization skills.”

But used properly, some teachers say, seclusion rooms can help.

Amy Dorn, a teacher in Middletown in southwestern Ohio, remembers the day a student fled her classroom, flung her into a brick wall and threw another teacher into lockers. This was before her classroom had an actual seclusion room, and the entire school was locked down as the student bloodied his hands against the walls and doors.

“Everyone’s education was pretty much interrupted that day,” Dorn said.

Courtney Hergesheimer / The Columbus Dispatch

Ohio Valley Educational Service Center early childhood and special education supervisor Carol Hare stands in a seclusion room in an ESC facility for children with emotional disturbance, as viewed through a camera monitoring system.

Sasheen Phillips, who heads the special-education division at the state education department, said the agency believes in “local control” and would investigate abuse or misuse of seclusion rooms only if someone complained.

While the department has never defined how to appropriately use seclusion and doesn’t know which schools have seclusion rooms, the state superintendent said seclusion should only be used in emergency situations.

“The Ohio Department of Education condemns any inappropriate use of seclusion rooms,” said State Superintendent Stan Heffner.

The department is writing a policy to regulate some aspects of seclusion rooms but not ban them. Phillips expects the policy to be approved by March 2013, five years after the department started writing it.

“There’s no way to gauge the breadth of the problem. It’s hidden from view,” said Sue Tobin, the chief legal counsel for Ohio Legal Rights Service, a state agency that works to protect people with disabilities.

The 100 public-school entities surveyed by StateImpact Ohio and The Dispatch are a small slice; there are more than 600 school districts in the state and hundreds more charter schools.

Not all of the 39 districts that said they have seclusion rooms prevent students from leaving or lock students in.

For the first time last year, the U.S. Department of Education asked many districts to report how often they used seclusion in which children were enclosed and prevented from leaving, and on whom. In Ohio, 41 of the 289 districts surveyed by the federal agency said they had secluded students 4,236 times. In more than 60 percent of cases, disabled children were those being secluded.

Minor Infractions

Interactive: Explore logs of seclusion rooms’ use from 100 school districts across Ohio. View documents »

Districts’ logs and incident reports provided to The Dispatch and StateImpact Ohio show that children with special needs — often emotional or behavioral disorders — regularly are placed in seclusion rooms (often alone) for minor infractions. There were very few instances in which children were being violent or unsafe, according to those documents. In Ohio schools in the past two years, children found themselves in isolation for throwing pencils or papers, swearing, complaining, refusing to do school work or being rude.

A student in Fairfield schools near Cincinnati was sent to seclusion for half an hour after turning off music in the classroom. In Pickerington, a child was punished for pouting.

How long the students are left in the rooms varies from minutes to hours. Some children are isolated several times a day for several days a week.

In a single month last year in a Youngstown school, students were sent to “time-out” 42 times. Documents show that children were being physically aggressive — hitting a staff member, throwing something or attacking another student — in only four of those incidents.

A recent investigation in Columbus schools found that special-needs aides were locking children in rooms for reasons that had nothing to do with safety.

Courtney Hergesheimer / The Columbus Dispatch

A seclusion room in the Logan-Hocking school district has doors with windows.

At Avon Lake schools near Cleveland last year, a boy with special needs and behavior problems was sent to a “de-escalation area” 30 times over two months. He was secluded six times in a single day.

Only a handful of schools have policies that govern why and for how long children should be put in seclusion rooms.

In Akron, the limit is 12 minutes, and there can never be a closed door. The policy specifies that isolation isn’t supposed to be used to punish students or “as an act of retribution or respite for the teachers.”

“If you don’t go ahead and say what the pitfall potentially might be, people fall into the pit,” said Karen Liddell-Anderson, who oversees special education in the Akron district.

Debating the Issue

When Brendon Spencer was in fifth grade, he spent a lot of time shut in a small room next to the counselor’s office.

Brendon, now 14, has Asperger’s syndrome, ADHD and a mood disorder. He says kids at the Crestwood school district in northeastern Ohio teased him and attacked him, and he reacted, sometimes physically. His teacher’s response, he said, was to put him in a room the district doesn’t call a seclusion room, but that is sometimes used to seclude children.

“They’d shut the lights off, and they’d put a teacher in there and make you have your head down, and it just made me feel like I was alone in darkness forever,” Brendon said.

Ida Lieszkovszky / StateImpact Ohio

Brendon Spencer, shown here at home, now attends a school that does not use seclusion.

He eventually transferred to a charter school focused on children with special needs that does not use seclusion rooms.

There’s little evidence that such rooms improve children’s behavior, said Clemson University professor Joe Ryan, who is also vice president of the Council for Children with Behavioral Disorders.

But seclusion rooms do take children out of the classroom, where they could be learning. And teachers and students can be injured forcing a struggling child into a seclusion room.

“There are a lot better ways to change children’s behaviors that do not have the same risks associated with these rooms,” Ryan said.

Research shows that children have committed suicide, hurt themselves and even died inside seclusion rooms.

Many educators say seclusion rooms should be used only when children are at risk of hurting themselves or others.

But Ryan’s 2007 study of a Minnesota school for children with special needs found that 97 percent of incidents of seclusion had nothing to do with physical aggression. One-third of the incidents happened because a student didn’t follow a staff member’s directions.

A 2012 American Association of School Administrators national survey of about 400 school superintendents found that nearly 20 percent thought seclusion was a good way to punish children.

Seclusion rooms sound “like something from the 1950s,” said Cincinnati student services director Markay Winston. Cincinnati schools haven’t used them for at least 10 years, she said.

And many other Ohio schools, including many with special programs for children with behavioral disorders, don’t use seclusion rooms. Instead, teachers and aides learn how to anticipate children’s misbehavior and teach the right behavior.

Still, experts say the use of seclusion rooms in schools in Ohio and nationally has grown as changes in federal law have integrated more children with special needs into schools with teachers who have little training in handling their behavior.

Appropriate Uses


Dorn, the teacher in Middletown, could see that one of her students with a behavioral disorder was becoming frustrated with his math worksheet. But even she wasn’t ready for what happened next:

He knocked over his desk, kicked a chair and threw a book at another child so hard that, if the child hadn’t ducked, he would have been hurt. But this time, Dorn, had a seclusion room. She and her aides emptied the classroom and took the boy there. The boy spent about 10 minutes there “screaming and cussing” and then calmed down and came back to class.

Before she had a time-out room near her classroom, Dorn said, “more of my kids were sent home because there was nothing I could do.”

Some teachers and school leaders say seclusion rooms allow children with behavioral disorders who scream, curse, spit or physically lash out at others to have a chance at getting the same education as their peers.

Carol Hare, the special-education supervisor at the Ohio Valley Educational Service Center, said she works with teachers in the Marietta area in eastern Ohio to reduce the use of the rooms, but she has come to see their value.

“When I started in my current position, I still believed that one should never have to restrain or use quiet rooms. But then I met the kids,” Hare said.

The alternatives, proponents say, are sending children home in the middle of the school day or calling the police.

That’s what used to happen at the 1,300-student Madison Plains school district in central Ohio before school staff turned an unused music practice room into a “quiet room” last school year, placing padding on the floor and along the walls.

Madison-Plains Director of Student Services Trish Passwaters said she hasn’t heard any parents complain about the room. She received more complaints in the past from parents who were called to pick up their kids early from school. And putting a child with a behavioral disorder into the juvenile justice system is rarely preferable to treating him or her at home.

Still, parents whose children have been secluded say that the memories of isolation and fear last.

“It was tiny. It had an angle to it, kind of a triangle. It had a window to it and stunk of urine,” said one parent, describing the space her son was secluded in at school. She asked not to be named, because she fears that the school will retaliate against her son.

Rosemary Crum recalled her son’s time at Pickerington schools.

“Secluding him actually started in third or fourth grade. That was not for long periods of time; it was a time-out room for maybe an hour or two. When he got to high school is when it really got to be a bad situation,” she said of her son, now grown.

“You can imagine the anger that built in this child,” Crum said. “This is something that has bothered me ever since then: If they hadn’t done this seclusion thing …”

StateImpact Ohio reporter Ida Lieszkovszky contributed to this report.

SLIDESHOW: Seclusion Rooms in Ohio Schools

Comments

  • Lisadigdon

    Last year we moved to Edmonton Alberta, Canada for work. They had seclusion cells there. My son lasted 2 days at Collingwood Elementary before I pulled him out and reported the school. Sadly, no one EVER contacated me.

    • Lisadigdon

      *contacted

    • Guest

      Seclusion rooms are not for schools, they are for prisons.

  • Guest

    I’m interested in reading the research that shows “children have committed suicide, hurt themselves and even died inside seclusion rooms.” If it was cited here I’m afraid I missed it.

    • Guest

      Here you go – many more like this, just Google “children have committed suicide, hurt themselves and even died inside seclusion rooms”

      As I said before, these may belong in prison – not schools.

      http://www.gao.gov/htext/d09719t.html

      • Guest3

        Guest. The other guest asked for statistics. The GAO report doesn’t have statistics. Here are a few statistics for you. There are currently over 130,000 schools serving over 50 million students in this country. In real numbers, no one really knows the extent of school violence or disruption. There is no comprehensive tracking system. The best available statistical data comes from the National Center for Education Statistics and the Department of justice. In 2007 students between the ages of 12 and 18 were victims of about 684,100 violent crimes annually (these numbers are estimated to be severely under-reported). Approximately 5-7% of 9-12 students do not attend school or a school event because they are afraid. 25% of public schools report daily and weekly bullying incidents. The data that exists puts the number of special education students around 14%. This segment of students is the most rapidly growing segment and it is projected that they will soon represent 25% of the student population. With respect to special education students and school violence, data shows that special education students are 14% of the population but are responsible for 39-42% of the emotionally disturbed and violent incidents.

        Re: seclusion room incidents. The student should always be monitored so there really is no excuse for a child dying or hurting himself in a room. I have no idea the statistical numbers for self-injury, but the number of children dying or committing suicide in a seclusion room is rare.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1011285889 Tom Luehrs

    Where i work there are strict rules regarding their use.Doors are made in such a way that they cannot be locked but must have a staff member holding a spring loaded handle in place.A report outlined the entire incident must be filled out immediately and submitted to the director of the ASD program.The room is only used when all other efforts have failed and the child is a danger to himself or a another student or staff member.The time in the room cannot exceed 15 minutes and indeed that usually allows the child to decompress and be redirected.The State of Michigan takes the use of these rooms very seriously as do all of us who work with kids with ASD.I have been injured numerous times as have other staff trying to de escalate a child,have been trained in non violent restraint methods but still have had to use the room occasionally.Any method is only as good as the people using it.Prper supervision of the child will eliminate any danger to the student but it must be insisted on followed and staff need to be well trained.

    • Duckmonkeyman

      I experienced the same procedures though for my population with more severe challenges, de-escalation could take hours. There is no easy answer.

      • yvo

        Full inclusion models are being implemented in more districts. (partially to provide more opportunities for ALL students to learn alongside their peers but also partially because it saves costs by reducing district paid tuition to specialized therapeutic day schools which are equipped to work with students with severe emotional/behavioral disorders.) As Tom Luehrs and Duckmonkeyman have stated, there are students who, despite our best proactive measures, can become violent and threaten the safety of peers and staff. Special education teachers enter the field knowing full well that they will most likely suffer some injuries due to assaults as well as sexual harassment and verbal threats but at times, particularly with the older kids, do need to consider safety. However, most students who are having a full blowout are not going to willingly go into a seclusion room. So then some sort of hands-on escort is needed. This tends to further escalate the student and puts everyone involved at increased risk. . Some explosive students WILL willingly go to seclusion because they know they can beat the crap out of the walls until their anger subsides. As stress goes up, cognition goes down. Its a dilemma because at some point, if you have an unsafe person assaulting others, you need to either get them contained or call the police and have them do it for you. Neither choice is great when dealing with students who have severe emotional/behavior disorders. Lazy ass teaching staff who overuse seclusion rooms for convenience or punishment are abusing the intent of the rooms. If a place has a seclusion room, there should be very strict protocol on their design and how they are used.

  • Duckmonkeyman

    Some of the children, not all, become VERY violent and out of control. It is very possible another innocent child or teacher could be seriously hurt ot killed in a meltdown. If you have never worked with emotionally or mentally challenged, you have no concept of what you are talking about. Teachers are trained to TRY to predict escalations, but it is not always possible. One girl could become violent with a simple hand gesture. Another would stare down then explode unpredictably. Try to deal with a 6′ 5″ 260lb teenager in a panic and pumped on adrenalin. I’ve seen it take 4-6 grown men to control a student short of tasing. That’s the real world, folks.

    • Jenny

      True but I would think at this time, yes, have him in another room but not left alone. Someone has to try to comfort them. Left alone, they can hurt themselves. Wall are padded? Ok, if your looking at a ’6’5″ 260 lb teenager’ then you don’t think that person could rip that off the wall. They could hurt themselves. I agree with you but leaving them alone is not always the answer. If a one way mirror was in place it wouldn’t be so bad.

      • Duckmonkeyman

        Yes, where I worked the kids had 2-3 well-trained (and large) staff with the students at all times in the rooms – but that takes money which voters do not want to pay. Many teachers including myself were attacked, spit on, threatened, cursed by students. Some students would escalate daily. For all these posters here who’s first reaction is indignant anger and “call a lawyer”, they need need become aware of the behavioral struggles these kids face. I can understand people’s shock and anger, but they are grossly uninformed. 99% of these kids mean no harm but have to deal with an intolerant and cruel general population of “normal” kids, frustration communicating, and strong medications. Plus much of the hype by the profit media is to sell advertising.

  • Jontod1

    These rooms are used by bad teachers that should not be allowed around children!
    Solitary confinement is TORTURE!
    Torturing children is illegal, and it must be banned from all schools!
    What is wrong with these people that are using this?
    GET THEM OUT OF EDUCATION, NOW!

  • homebuilding

    This is a sensationally difficult problem……and I can guarantee you that before these kids are 10 to 15 years of age, there have been many elementary school teachers (many of them, the finest available, anywhere) who have had the strongest of indications that the growing child was just not attaining the basic socializations needed for classroom success.

    It takes a lot of teamwork, time, and parenting to adequately address these situations. And that takes more money than some districts have……remember MANY of the poorer public school parents are on the hourly clock and cannot just drop everything to make a school meeting.

    I wonder how it works out if France, where LITTLE kids learn to sit at the table and learn basic socialization and table matters–with NO special deference given to the’ little emporer’s’ demands.

    Yes, a large portion of the difficulty relates to out-of-school circumstances

  • Joel

    I’m sorry, but I fail to see how this is abuse. I’m assuming the kids were misbehaving, and if they didn’t like being by themselves in a room for a few minutes, I bet they didn’t misbehave again.

    • Jenny

      Um, a few minutes? How do you know if it was longer? And how do you know that someone was in there trying to calm them? Im sorry but my child does not like some rooms. For him to be put in something like this, alone, that would drive him crazy. How is that helping anyone? That just makes it worse. That child will grow to stop trusting people and act out more. :(

    • mamabear

      Maybe you dont understand that some schools abuse them. Like my daughters school. My daughter was 11 at the time and she was placed in a dark room with the door closed. My daughter is in a wheelchair, non-verbal and is NOT aggressive. She actually just cries and whines when she is frustrated. There was no reason for her to be placed in isolation when all the school had to do was take her for a walk and she would have been fine. Alot of kids with disabilities are placed in isolation because staff is too lazy to do their job. If they cant handle it, then they should find other employment!!

    • BB

      Let me lock you in a cell for nothing. Five hors later I might let you out if I feel like it! That’s torture Joel!

    • http://www.facebook.com/brandy.spencer.7 Brandy Spencer

      Joel, my son would spend most of his school day in a room or hallway by himself. I am thankful he was not physically abused, he was not forced to lay in his own urine as some are, however, I define neglect as abuse. My son was being neglected on his education. I was sending him to school to learn and he was sitting in a room by himself. That is not acceptable. It started out that he was being made fun of and bullied by other students and would act out physically. I understand that teachers have to protect but how about stopping the behaviors that are causing the acting out and also teaching kids like my son how to react instead. That would solve many more issues. Also, my son has ADHD in addition to the Asperger’s, so when he would be unable to concentrate…back to the hallway or room he’d go. It didn’t stop him from “misbehaving again”, it only furthered his outrage and made him feel unheard.

  • Trenalg

    This is outrageous and unacceptable CHILD ABUSE! Schools caught having and using such rooms should be SHUT DOWN! If I found that one of my grandchildren was subjected to this kid of confinement, I would sue the school district and my grandchild would be removed immediately from that school. Sometimes, a child needs a “time out.” This is not, “sit in a corner for x number of minutes”…let alone a room w/o windows. A genuine “time out” should consist of a desk in a well lit and ventilated room with windows looking out. The child should NOT be alone there, there should be one kind adult in there too; the child should be allowed to read, or talk to the adult about what is going on, until the child is calmed and reassured and ready to go back and give the classroom setting another try. This should NOT BE PUNISHMENT, it should be a gracious OPPORTUNITY for the child to take a break and process, with help, what has been going on, and find a new perspective before re-entering the classroom. A child who would be deemed in need of a padded cell has had his/her need ignored for far too long. Maybe the schools should admit to being unable to handle certain behavioral and emotional challenges from children, and those children should be provided with special educational opportunities, with compassionate, trained, caring adults to help them. Classical music set at a very low volume works wonders in helping set a calming tone in a group setting. Also, turn off the harsh overhead florescent lights (IT’S DAYTIME! remember?) and place desk lamps around the rooms where needed. CHILDREN ARE HUMAN BEINGS!!

    • Kelther

      I am an educator in a room that used one of these rooms correctly for several months before the door was requested to be removed by a parent. This directly resulted in myself, several staff members, and students being injured by students who have outbursts of violence. Some students have very limited communication and no amount of compassionate adult attention will console them when they become upset.

      I agree that this should not work like a punishment! That’s absolutely right. Competent teachers know this. However, making use of these rooms illegal would put everyone in the classroom at serious risk, and unfortunately without them you would be hard-pressed to find a school that can handle a potentially violent child.

      Have you spent time in a classroom like this? If you haven’t, I highly recommend it, especially if you’re a parent of a child with special needs.

      • Beardoggy1

        Somehow we had safe schools in the 70′s without cells!

        • Jgatesf

          That is because special ed kids rarely attended general ed neighborhood schools in the 70s. The aggressive kids were in separate schools and were most likely in seclusion rooms in those schools.

      • Systemic Advocate

        We would love to! Most schools wont let the parents in the classroom…

      • Lacey

        My son is one of these violent kids you are talking about. And there are other ways besides locking them up in a room. My son burns off his aggression by walking which requires for a teacher to spend time with him. Which Schools have a problem with a teacher being with one child for a period of time. He is very smart and can learn just like everyone else. He is not a beast and shouldn’t be treated like one just because the school districts will not have the proper staff to take care of them. People need to think about this situation as what if it was your kid? And if your comfortable on locking your own kid up like that then there is something wrong with you!

    • Dune

      Looks like someone could use a time out………
      Some of the descriptions of “time out” are disturbing and dangerous. Time out is effective and safe when established guidelines (including room) are met,determined appropriate, and procedures are trained and monitored by a professional, such as a Certified Behavior Analyst.”Time out” includes time out from attention and reinforcement.When performed effectively, time out keeps others safe, allows scheduled activities to continue,and allows students a safe place to calm down without following the identified behavior ( e.g. physical aggression) with attention or desired items/ environment. Students should be constantly observed outside of the well lit and ventilated room (use peripheral vision), to ensure safety without providing attention. A brief description of behavior and established criteria “no hitting, when your calm for x minutes (5 minutes often effective) you can come out”, may be provided . Lamps, windows and desks may get broken,cause injury and provide a reinforcing environment.”Time out” should not be confused with “study hall”, with the added attention of a preferred (reinforcing) or non-preferred (punishing) adult.Study hall may be appropriate, but its not “time out”. A less restrictive time out can often be effective within the classroom, when the student is moved ( e.g. 15 feet away) from participation (time out) with others; again provide criteria. You also want to avoid students/clients misbehaving in classroom to escape/ avoid classroom and gain a lounge- like (music) “time out” with a “kind adult”. Time out procedures may be individualized to address special considerations or issues.

    • Duckmonkeyman

      Things have changed since you were in school. Back then, these kids were hidden at home or institutionalized. Now, educators try to include all children as much as possible. However, the “normal” general population including many parents are cruel, intolerant, and still shun kids with challenges.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1311673820 Jennifer Pauken Meeker

    This has happened to my child and we pulled him out of school completely because of how he was being treated. We learned this summer, after months of testing, that he has high functioning autism spectrum disorder. Reading this article makes me (1) joyful that this problem is finally being highlighted, (2) tearful at the thought that it happened to my child and is happening to so many others, and (3) MAD AS HELL that schools are getting away with this. My son never got physically violent until he was touched by a staff member. He kicked garbage cans, knocked things over, threw pencils when he grew frustrated, but he never “assaulted” anyone until they grabbed him to put him in that STUPID room…then they would report that he was “being violent” IF they reported the incident to us at all! By the end of every week, he was so stressed that he would vomit, have fevers, and he also licked his lips so often from anxiety that he would have cracks and red skin around his mouth. Took him out of school to homeschool with a tutor for the last 2 months of school and he was FINE. And guess what else? The school district sent us a notice today–he’s been identified as GIFTED because of his Terra Nova test scores…all this after we were repeatedly told that he doesn’t qualitfy for gifted services…but now they are trying to tell us that they don’t have a gidted program, which is a lie, and I think they are just trying to keep the “problem kids” out of the honors classes. I am angry just typing this!

  • http://twitter.com/BrienneCalmer Brienne Calmer

    I’m okay with having a separate space to help kids cool off if they are having problems regulating their emotions. But the use ought to be very explicitly spelled out in the student’s IEP, for exactly this reason. It’s like giving tasers to police; they’re sold as being an alternative to a bullet, but they’re used as an extra punitive measure to make a person do as they’re told. Give a man a hammer, and every problem looks like a nail, right?

  • dc

    I write as the mother of a first-grader with Asperger’s whose Ohio school frequently used the “quiet room” to try and curb challenging behaviors (not typically violent behaviors, though he increasingly acted out due to frustration levels and fear about the room itself) during an incredibly difficult transition from kindergarten to first grade. I can say that one of the hardest things for me was NOT KNOWING what Ohio allowed and didn’t pertaining to such a room, not knowing where the boundaries could be with the room’s use and what real voice I had regarding all this. I didn’t trust my own instincts as soon as I should have, instead giving administrators the benefit of the doubt for too long while assuming my son’s complaints were somehow less important. Thankfully, his school agreed to send him for the remainder of first grade to an autism-specific program where there is NO “quiet room” and no seclusion of any sort, and where he has been performing very well both academically and behaviorally for some time now. But as we make plans to return to second grade, even with a good plan in place and a teacher he already loves, he continues to ask me if they have “torn down,” “deleted,” “destroyed” the quiet room yet. All I can do is assure my son that he will not be returning to the quiet room.

    I write, though, not only as a mother of an ASD child, but also as a friend to teachers in both general and special ed settings, teachers who do the very best they can by all their students, and who wrestle too with what to do in those really hard situations. It’s hard. I KNOW it’s hard. I admire teachers who wrestle with how to best serve each one of their kids, and I have no doubt that it’s exhausting and that they feel pressures at times from parents and administrators alike. Still, somehow, there are some amazing teachers out there who work to accommodate all the different personalities, learning styles, and abilities in a single classroom, who provide much needed structure while remaining flexible, who love that teaching is also about learning. Touring the classroom of a special ed teacher-friend in another state, she showed me the “calming room” a part of her classroom where students can self-select to go when they’re feeling stressed (there’s dim lighting, comfy beanbags, safe surroundings) and where, when absolutely necessary, a student might need to go for his or her own safety during a meltdown. The attitude behind the room and the way it gets used, though, is decidedly different than seclusion as a punishment or control on behavior; the room is not a shortcut for problem solving.

    I know that these really are complicated matters. Still, it does no good simply to blame…the child, the parent, the teacher. I’ve been on the receiving end of blame (poor parenting’s an easy thing to go to, isn’t it? And I can’t tell you how bewildering and frightening it is to sit in a meeting administrators who start with the premise that everything that’s going wrong with your child in their school is somehow the fault of your home, especially when at home your child has been doing remarkably well), and I’ve had to wrestle with my own impulse to blame and lash out at individuals when I’m feeling attacked. Blaming, though, doesn’t solve problems; keeping the child as the priority and coming up with positive behavior plans as a team, however, can go a loooong way towards eliminating behaviors that lead to meltdowns in the first place by seeing that appropriate supports are available in the classroom, that skills are being taught to help the child recognize and work through difficulties as they arise.

    “Kids do well if they can,” says Dr. Ross Greene. Want some good alternatives to the prevailing attitudes behind seclusion room use? Check out Greene’s Lost at School and Lives in the Balance organization, beginning with the “Bill of Rights for Behaviorally Challenging Kids.”

    And in the meantime, let’s work to get some restrictions against seclusion rooms in Ohio, and transparency in when and how they are used. We need some absolute “this is legal/this isn’t” standards so that parents stressed out to their wits end over what’s going on at school with their children can have at least some grounding on which to stand and say, “This crosses a line” and begin to trust their own voices.

    • Duckmonkeyman

      Yes, excellent post. As a teacher and parent of a child with ASD, I see both sides.

      As a teacher, you are given little support, inadqueate funding, and now evaluated by meaningless test scores of all students. Intervention aides are constantly pulled for meetings or stretched thin after writing long IEPs that read like a lawyer drafted. “Reformers” want to rank you based on once a year, one-size-fits-all tests that are poorly designed and fail to measure learning. All while the governor cuts funding, increase class size, and and seems determined to reduce pay to minimum wage.

      As a parent, you grow frustrated and angry at the lack of support and tolerance. “Normal” kids are cruel and mean. Their parents accept the bad behavior and bullying of their darlings with denial or are just as bad as their kids. You begin to wonder if humanity has really evolved much beyond chimps. You feel isolated, helpless, guilty. Some teachers and administrators are burned out dealing with the challenges or just don’t understand. You get tired constantly re-educating people on how to deal with your child’s challenges. Every so often, you run into an angel and it is a huge help.

      There is no easy answer.

      • dc

        Yes. You’ve got it exactly. The complexities on all sides, which as a teacher I am sure you know and have experienced more acutely than I have. Thanks for your thoughts on this :)

  • Jane Brooks

    My son has been abused in “resource rooms” then placed in “quiet place” because he shuts down and tries to crawl under the desk when he sees people crying in pain and screaming at the top of their lungs and trying to put holes in the sheet rock because they are in another “quiet room on the other side of a window.” My son reported to me seeing a child hit on two different days. When I called the school , DFS and the police . I was called back by the school officer stating there wasn’t any reason to believe it happened. So no investigation would happen. My son would not lie about something like that. I know for certain he saw it.

    • dc

      so sorry your son has had to go through that., and that he’s also witnessed abuse towards others. Cameras, too, are needed in these environments. If our children aren’t believed and our voices aren’t taken seriously, perhaps cameras would be when abuses happen.

    • Duckmonkeyman

      I would wonder if this is true. I have NEVER seen a child stuck – physically restrained, yes. The consequences for hitting a child are severe. In fact, I’ve seen teachers severely injured to the ER who did not retaliate. Kids tell stories and it is a sign of wanting attention if not an issue with perception.

  • Jane Brooks

    My son was also a victim of being placed in a seclusion room without windows and the heat on in a hot room. He said, he thought he would be “dead” . So he took off his clothes which is a big long process for him at that time in 6th grade. They said he was in there 5 minutes for giggling in class. Another student is locked in a seclusion room all day with a para except for lunch and a few breaks. The para hits him.

  • Gman 1965

    when my son started kindegarten i was in the midst of getting him diagnosed with high functioning asd.he was put in the special needs class even before his dx, with my permission.
    he was having issues with sensory overload in the classroom. a small room was cleared and prepared with a desk and chair, small board and a beanbag chair, the door had a window to the hall. basicaly it was a seclusion room and it was used, not misused, with my permission.
    often times it was his choice to use the room and avoid the meltdown.
    by the next year he was with the class fultime.
    he never once reffered to the room negatively then or now.
    point im making is dont judge until you know, each case is different and should be left to the iep process. at that point the use of and its conditions can be addressed by the staff and the parents on an individual basis.
    sometimes, when used right, these rooms can be used to avoid violent behaviours with a child with sensory issues who just needs a quiet place for a few minutes, perhaps hours if they choose.
    of course the misuse of these rooms can be more horible than i can imagine.
    im fortunate in that my sons use of the room was a tool and an asset.

  • Depart_The_Loop

    I had this when I entered fifth grade and beyond. It was the hall of Bradford Elementary School (NJ) or a visit to the “special ed” class to hang with the disability crew, who were sort of like the kitchen help–a different culture, a different language, and no mingling. Teacher personality and philosophy had a lot to do with it. The authoritarian types teed off on me. The nice mommy types were the opposite (nurturing, enthusiastic, supportive, inspiring, fun!) and ended at grade 4. It sucks being made an example of. For everyone.

    Now I see how nicely the practice has evolved:

    http://stateimpact.npr.org/ohio/2012/08/05/locked-away-how-ohio-schools-misuse-seclusion-rooms/

    Sort of like an orientation course for incarceration. A veritable privatization theme park. And yet we are left, as the “selected,” to ponder how there is something wrong with “me.” Yes, I have a life-long problem with this.

    And yes, I received an elite education. Until it no longer made sense.

  • Edwardjsaari

    I know a teacher and until you have worked in a school for 25 years in a bad school dist. don’t make assumptions. Some kids kick, bite, spit on teachers and it gets worse. They are emotionally disturbed.

  • roxyar

    Perspective is amazing. My son has autism and his school uses a “green room,” (It is painted green.) My son goes in there when he needs to calm down or if he needs a quiet place to work. He is not locked away but does spend time in it. It is NOT used as punishment. My son’s “meltdowns” are seen as not something that he needs to be punished for but as something that requires him to regain control of himself.
    He once wrote on a wall and was punished by having to stay afterschool to clean the wall.
    What a difference!

  • Trenalg

    The public schools are beyond repair. Quit your job and stay home to homeschool your kids. You don’t need all the stuff your second income is providing anyway. If you’re single, there are home school co-ops, and there are private schools with scholarships. There have to be many additional alternatives to public school; nothing is more important than your children being emotionally safe and getting a quality education.

    • Duckmonkeyman

      It is because there is a concerted effort by Republicans to destroy public education in favor of for profit charters and taxpayers paying for private schools. My deep respect for homeschoolers who are successful as homeschooling is not for the feint of heart. I have had, however, a fair number of homeschoolers back in my classroom to be “caught up” with major gaps in their basic skills. Plus kids with ASD or other challenges can, frankly, be very difficult to parent. The parents need help and support of good, well-funded schools or they will break down. The number of divorces in our families with special needs is staggering. BTW, we tried private school for our child with ASD and the good “Christian” school made it clear kids with disabilities need not apply. The principal even said they didn’t want our child there. It is called cherrypicking and all private schools do it.

      • Depart_The_Loop

        The people at the bottom of the pyramid have always known what more and more Americans are now being made to experience. There are slaves and there are masters. Though we have aspired, as a nation, to practice an egalitarian ethic, the truth is we are living in a spoils system, and as such, a large segment of the population, by design, will be required to operate without the rights, rewards, or privileges of full citizenship.

        The public schools system was an attempt to improve access to citizenship based on individual merit, but without a genuine ethos of inclusion, and without the actual prospect of a livelihood proportionate to the carrying costs of an “American lifestyle,” the promise is little more than an American Dream, underpinned by the sad reality that we are laying waste to large swaths of the youngest in the name of competition and “excellence.” People who do not conform and excel have become an industrial byproduct. A new form of human waste.

        But there’s money to be made there, too, in a privatized universe such as the one the Republicans have been questing for over the past half-century. Yes, the public schools are slated for termination, along with the justice system, and government by the people.

        This is a massive public relations campaign of the sort that sells you your own demise like candy. It is all conceived in an atmosphere of righteous superiority, and makes victims and perpetrators of us all–with the exception of those who can survive the swamp of cognitive dissonance that we must all now ford.

        It is an old game, and we must focus very carefully to catch the sleight of hand. It is tempting for many people to embrace the ethos of deciding who should die so that a preferred way of life shall endure, but that is merely the crack of the slavemaster’s whip talking through those it has harmed and convinced.

        People of dignity and people of innocence know this instinctually, but we are taught to give up our reflexive sense of a common humanity in favor of individual advancement and access to the privileged company of those who have done the same.

        This is antithetical to the professed mission of the public schools which states, and I paraphrase, to each his own, according to merit, and dignity to all. Unless we can reclaim this ethos In all things, and realize anew that great blessings carry great burdens of responsibility, then the education system as a whole will be lost, as will the illusion of America as the land of the free.

        Homeschooling can afford a small class of committed people a chance to survive on flotsam and jetsam, but the real question will always be, so to speak, why did they not put enough lifeboats on the Titanic, why were they in such a hurry to prove something about the magnificence of their own creation, and how many of the first class voyagers were willing to give up their place on the boats to the good folks in steerage. Then and now, the problem of our time.

        Education has become the new principle rationale of a modern caste system, and the North Atlantic, though warmer, some may argue, is still cold enough to kill.

  • EBDTeach

    I taught in public schools for 18 years as a teacher of students identified as having emotional/behavioral disorders. While I have been assigned some students with significant behaviors, I have NEVER used a seclusion room and have requested only being assigned a classroom without a seclusion room. I worked very hard to remove all stressors that my students typically melted down or acted out about. It is a fine art. I have had bones broken in my hands and have also been diagnosed with PTSD. I take pride in the fact that I was able to provide appropriate and effective services for my students without ever secluding them. This does not mean that there were never times when we had to clear the classroom for everyone’s safety, but those were few and far between. I always keep in mind that the other kids in school are forever changed when they see acts of aggression or hear students being escorted to a seclusion room and then hear the very loud and troubling protests of the students in seclusion. We have to protect the general ed kiddos while providing services for the more aggressive kiddos. I am not sure what the solution is. It is a fine line walk every day. I think there are times when aggressive students need a place to de-escalate, but to me, once you have a seclusion room at your disposal, teachers and untrained and unsupported paraprofessionals are much more inclined to use them instead of finding more humane and effective solutions.

    • dc

      Reading this made me cry. THANK YOU for having been this sort of teacher with this level of understanding. I am sure it was not easy, but I have no doubt that you did well by many a child entrusted to your care. Thank you.

  • BabyBoomerWriter

    What this suggests is that Ohio has hired poorly trained teachers who use the nearest isolation space to solve their classroom problems. Are the principals of these schools are ignoring these displays of unpreparedness? Why aren’t they rallying behind their teaching staff, offering alternative interventions? When a child who acts out, they want attention. Being taken out of class means their “cry” is ignored. When child’s problem has not been addressed and frustration escalates and we launch yet another high school student destined to drop out. This is a picture of an education system in the process of disintegration.

  • Systemic Advocate

    This is what they are doing to our children some as young as 3 & 4 years old. This is abuse!
    “America’s Forgotten Children” Restraint & Seclusion Awareness Video
    http://youtu.be/QyTfOnPLnSM

  • Ray Todd

    This story or a follow-up to it should be on the Front Page as HEADLINE NEWS. More people in this country should know this is going on in schools right in their community.

  • songnverse

    And someone said we didn’t need God in school…tsk tsk

  • should of could of

    Lynchburg Clay elementary. Ohio…My child had behavior issues due to the fact that he had low self esteem because he could not comprehend and learn. Like the rest of his class mates. So he soon fell behind the rest of his class. And they required an IEP.. He wasnt violent in the room. Although he would sleep and spit spitwads thru a straw in which he had to clean. He was in there like everyday most of the time all day. With no supervision. All because he would refuse to do his work. On time he came home with claw marks on his upper forarm deep bloody marks from his teachers finger nails. He said it didnt hurt. And he pissed her off by refusing work. Hes 19 now and has so many problems it isnt funny. I dont think he could keep a job if he tryed. Hes a mess. I was in the office so many times and they always made it seem like he was so awlful. I feel so bad for not protecting him. I hope they do away with those rooms.

  • Anonymous Female

    Hi. I was a student in a WA state BD classroom. I have severe trauma because of these rooms (much smaller than pictured here). I wasn’t a violent kid. I never did more than flip a desk when no one else was in the classroom… I could just break a pencil that wasn’t mine and they would shove me in there. I am currently a 99 pound woman with no history of psychically attacking people. I went in there for repeated outbursts and an attempted suicide.

    They never bothered to diagnose me while I was in school. I didn’t receive the treatment I needed to ever succeed in general ed. That is what these classes are supposed to be doing right? Rehabilitating us? Teaching us self control? These things were not taught. We were not taught things that we could have done differently.

    As an adult I have since been diagnosed with a personality disorder as well as PTSD, Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Panic Disorder, Depression, as well as a phobia of small spaces (wonder where I got that from?).

    This technique did not help me. This technique made me worse.

    In high school they put me in a class without a safety room and I EXCELLED. My last year in school I got a 3.5 GPA and was going to college at the same time. Still not a diagnosis…. but I wasn’t scared of being put in the closet… nor was I being treated like a criminal even though I wasn’t nor did I have to listen to the screams of my fellow classmates. I was someone who just needed extra help with my emotional behavior.

    I am currently attending college (slowly do to my mental illness still hindering me. But knowing what I am dealing with, CBT, and medication should all help me to my goals of graduating with a masters). I am hoping to become a BD teacher myself. I want to be just like my teacher in high school only I want to teach some techniques about how to handle ourselves when things don’t go our ways. About how setting boundaries can help people to understand us and help garner ourselves more self respect. :)

    I am really hoping that I can end or lessen the use of those dreadful rooms for everyone. I think a voluntary quiet room is all that is needed. there should be enough room to walk around, a desk to write at and do work at, and it should be sound proof. No teacher should be allowed to lock a student in there.

  • http://www.facebook.com/tina.diesman Tina Diesman

    My 6 year old is having nightmares and anxiety from being put in one of these rooms. There is no oversight at the school and IEP teachers are using it in what ever way they see fit. Even after requesting to be notified anytime my child has to be put in this room, for how long and why it was implemented, I still have never been told. I am in a battle right now with the school. If there is anyone out there that can help my sweet little girl please contact me on my Facebook page.

  • whitey b

    The Amesbury, Massachusetts, public school system uses one of these rooms. At least one 8-year-old child on a disability plan has been found alone in the locked room despite no record of having posed a threat to himself or other students. The superintendent’s name is Michele S. Robinson and the principal is M. Louise Charette. The head of the School Committee is Mayor Thatcher Kezer. The school system has refused to share the findings or report of a third-party investigation into the abuse.

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