Ohio

Eye on Education

Jennifer Smith Richards

Jennifer Smith Richards is an education reporter at The Columbus Dispatch. She's covered schools and education for more than a decade at newspapers in Huntington, W.Va.; Utica, N.Y.; Savannah, Ga.; and Columbus. Jennifer's work is focused on statewide accountability, school choice issues and teaching and learning in Columbus City Schools. She has a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Ohio University.

Report: Columbus School District Misused Seclusion Rooms

Ohio Legal Rights Service

A seclusion room at Beatty Park Elementary School in Columbus has a peephole in the door.

The Columbus school district has used its seclusion rooms — some as small as a closet, some reeking of urine or covered in spit — as a place to punish children with special needs, a state investigation has found.

Some schools continue to use a type of physical restraint so dangerous that is banned in Ohio because it can kill children, the investigation found.

Investigators found that staff isn’t properly trained.

Some parents thought their special-needs children were getting therapy when they actually were spending time in seclusion rooms.

And even though the district has a policy that the rooms are only for “crisis situations,” investigators said they commonly are used as punishment when students are noncompliant or disrespectful.

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Ohio Could Require Schools to Track Seclusion Rooms’ Use But Keep Details Secret

Courtney Hergesheimer / The Columbus Dispatch

A "time-out" room in the Middletown school district is has a two-way mirror.

All schools will be required to track — and disclose — how often they are restraining or secluding children under a proposed state policy.

But details about incidents, such as the reasons children are placed in seclusion rooms, would not be made public, according to a draft policy presented to a state Board of Education committee yesterday.

That type of information was the basis for a recent investigation by The Columbus Dispatch and StateImpact Ohio. The investigation, “Locked Away,” was published in August and found that seclusion rooms in Ohio schools often are misused.

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Locked Away: New Policy Would Limit Use of School Seclusion Rooms to Real Emergencies

INTERACTIVE: Read a draft of the policy on the use of seclusion and restraint the Ohio Department of Education is developing.

A 17-year-old Ohio girl died in 2008 in a home for troubled children after her caretakers pinned her face-down on the floor.

A ban on that dangerous type of restraint was decreed, and a task force was convened to make rules to govern both restraining and secluding Ohio children.

There was a firestorm, and then … nothing. No policy was adopted, and schools throughout Ohio continue to restrain and seclude special-needs children with little regulation or oversight. But as accounts of inappropriate restraint and seclusion of Columbus students made news this year, the Ohio Department of Education restarted the task force and says a new draft policy will be completed this month.
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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.

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StateImpact seeks to inform and engage local communities with broadcast and online news focused on how state government decisions affect your lives.
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