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Locked Away: Seclusion Rooms in Ohio Schools

Background

Seclusion rooms are enclosed spaces that are supposed to be used to calm or restrain children who become violent.

In Ohio, until recently no state law governed seclusion rooms’ use in schools, and the Ohio Department of Education had provided little guidance and virtually no oversight to schools.


But the discussion about whether or how to regulate seclusion in schools has continued in the U.S. for nearly four decades.

In 2012, after accounts of inappropriate restraint and seclusion of Columbus students made news, the Ohio Department of Education restarted a 2009 task force that had drafted a state policy on the use of seclusion and restraint. The state Board of Education approved a policy in early 2013.

Seclusion rooms can be crucial tools to keep students who may quickly spin out of control and become violent safe. Many educators say seclusion rooms should be used only when children are at risk of hurting themselves or others.

There is little evidence that seclusion helps children but plenty of evidence that it hurts them. Seclusion rooms do take children out of the classroom, where they could be learning. Teachers and students can be injured forcing a struggling child into a seclusion room. Research shows that children have committed suicide, hurt themselves and even died inside seclusion rooms.

By the Numbers

In April 2012, The Columbus Dispatch and StateImpact Ohio requested records from 100 districts and charter schools across Ohio selected to represent a variety of school types and found that 39 set aside rooms to isolate children.

The U.S. Department of Education surveyed school districts about how they used seclusion rooms during the 2009-10 school year. 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.

Investigation

A 2012 investigation by The Columbus Dispatch and StateImpact Ohio found that seclusion rooms are misused in Ohio schools. Some teachers use them to punish children. Many times, placing children in the rooms is a convenience for frustrated employees.

The joint investigation also found many schools that used seclusion rooms had no formal policy about when or how the rooms should be used or about how parents should be notified. Many schools did not train staff in the proper use of seclusion rooms.

Latest Posts

What Seclusion Rooms Look Like

Columbus Dispatch visual journalist Courtney Hergesheimer traveled to schools around Ohio as part of StateImpact Ohio and The Dispatch’s reporting on the use of seclusion rooms in Ohio schools. Her video, narrated by Dispatch reporter Jennifer Smith Richards, shows what some of the seclusion rooms we visited look like. Some have tile floors; other have [...]

Teacher: Without the Seclusion Room, Our Job Became Harder

Last week, a caller to WOSU’s All Sides with Ann Fisher talk show explained what happened when the school he worked at stopped using seclusion, or timeout, rooms. [Listen to the clip at the 23:30 mark.] The caller, identified only as Mike, told WOSU he taught at a county school for severely mentally disabled children. The [...]

Listen to Our Partner Radio Stations Talk About Seclusion Rooms

Our partner stations took on the issue of seclusion rooms this week too. (Seclusion rooms are enclosed spaces that are supposed to be used to calm or restrain children who become violent. In Ohio, the state doesn’t regulate their use and the Ohio Department of Education has provided little guidance and virtually no oversight to [...]

Our Neighbors in Kentucky Approve State Policy Limiting Use of Seclusion Rooms

J. Stephen Conn / Flickr The Kentucky State Board of Education voted today to sharply limit the use of seclusion and restraint in public schools. The Kentucky policy would also require schools to tell parents when seclusion and restraint are used. Kentucky did not previously regulate the use of seclusion and restraint in public schools. Ohio [...]

Locked Away: Teachers Have Seclusion Rooms, But Not Training In Their Use

Teachers in schools across Ohio that have seclusion rooms get little training in how to use the rooms. Teacher-preparation colleges don’t extensively cover how to seclude a student with special needs, either. But even without special training — and in many cases, no district procedure to follow — teachers are putting children in seclusion rooms in [...]

Locked Away: Some Schools Don’t Use Seclusion Rooms

Seclusion rooms are enclosed spaces that are supposed to be used to calm or restrain children who become violent. In Ohio, no state law governs their use, and the Ohio Department of Education has provided little guidance and virtually no oversight to schools. An investigation by StateImpact Ohio and The Columbus Dispatch found that seclusion rooms are [...]

Locked Away: See Which Ohio Schools Use Seclusion Rooms

Schools across Ohio, in rural, suburban and urban areas, use seclusion rooms.

The Columbus Dispatch and StateImpact Ohio surveyed 100 Ohio school districts, charter schools and educational service centers on the use of seclusion rooms in their buildings. We found 39 of those 100 districts used seclusion rooms. Only thirteen had policies governing their use. Use this table to find out where your district stands.

Locked Away: How to Find Out if Your School Has Seclusion Rooms

Locked Away Columbus Dispatch StateImpact Logos combined

StateImpact Ohio and The Columbus Dispatch used Ohio’s public records law to get answers on the use of seclusion rooms in Ohio public schools. You can do the same. To investigate seclusion rooms in Ohio schools, we filed records requests with 100 public school districts, charter schools and state agencies. (Here’s our story about what we [...]

Locked Away: Read Seclusion Room Logs From Ohio Schools

Seclusion room log screenshot

The Columbus Dispatch and StateImpact Ohio requested logs of seclusion rooms’ use from 100 school districts across Ohio as part of our reporting on seclusion rooms. The logs show that the rooms are often used for their intended purpose: to calm or restrain children who become violent. But they also show that the rooms are misused. Here [...]

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