Schools Punished Kids by Putting Them in Solitary Boxes

By Angelica Lai

Photos of seclusion rooms primarily used in early elementary grades in Iowa have recently resurfaced, fueling a debate about where to draw the line when it comes to discipline or punishment in schools. Some of these rooms pictured are unfinished pine boxes, as small as six feet by six feet, or have black padding on the walls with little light or ventilation. 

Previously known as “timeout rooms,” these isolated spaces were intended to hold children as a last-resort safety measure to protect students from hurting themselves or others, but were realistically used even in much more minor cases and sometimes for longer than an hour.

Outrage in the last few years led to an investigation by the state Department of Education, new recommendations by the Iowa City Community School District’s Time Out Room Task Force and most recently a petition to revise school codes on restraint, physical confinement and detention.

Still, seclusion rooms are not completely banned this year, though the school district told USA Today in June, “any of the concerns have already been addressed” and “the district will continue to develop and implement systemic changes that positively impact the learning environment for all students.” Recommended changes include more training and behavior de-escalation strategies for staff and improving communication about seclusion for parents.

In June, the state Department of Education ruled that some of the rooms’ uses were in violation of state and federal laws. Out of 455 incidents from December 2015 to December 2016, 4 percent of those cases found district staff used seclusion rooms for minor infractions, like stepping out of line, having “attitude” or using foul language. These incidents involved 64 children, many of which were placed in seclusion multiple times (18 of them were shut in there six or more times). Kids were secluded for an average of 20 to 29 minutes.

Tammy Mims, a former Cedar Rapids resident, told The Progressive that her third grader was locked inside an unapproved room fashioned from a utility closet. The legal guardian could hear her in the background screaming to be let out when the school called her.

“If I was to do what they did, it would be child abuse,” Mims said. “Why is it OK for the school district to do that to a child?”

According to the Iowa Department of Education’s online version of Chapter 103, the area of confinement and detention should be of “reasonable dimensions” with “sufficient light and adequate ventilation for human habitation” and “comfortable temperature.” Schools must attempt to notify a child’s parent or guardian “on the same day the child is subjected to physical restraint or physical confinement and detention.”

But schools do not need parental consent, and often parents didn’t know about seclusion rooms until their child was put in one.

Last year, the Gazette reported concerns about the use of these rooms when it comes to special needs students. These students generally have an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) that legally documents what a student’s needs are and how the district plans to meet those needs. Any child could still go to seclusion if behavior warranted it.

Tammy Nyden told the Gazette that she lost track of how many times her son, who has Tourette’s syndrome, was put into seclusion for throwing objects, hitting and screaming threats. But being shut in a 6’x6′ room didn’t calm him. 

Actually, being put in the seclusion room sometimes ramped up children’s disruptive or dangerous behavior instead of calming them, which leads to more questions about whether this type of isolation is more harmful than helpful. Some parents even worry that taking kids away from their peers is more damaging and can invalidate children’s feelings.

Isolation rooms aren’t only an issue in Iowa. In January 2016, parents were furious that these rooms existed in an elementary school in Kansas. In the first half of last year, staff at a Seattle high school confined a student with a developmental disability 617 times despite state laws. And one of the most heartbreaking example was back in 2004, when a 13-year-old in a north Georgia special education school hung himself after spending timeout in a prison-like concrete room latched from the outside.

An analysis by ProPublica and NPR of data for the 2011-2012 school year of school discipline practices from the U.S. Department of Education’s Civil Rights Data Collection shows:

*Restraint and seclusion were used at least 267,000 times nationwide. That includes 163,000 instances in which students were restrained. Mechanical restraints were used 7,600 of those times.

*Schools reported that they placed children in seclusion rooms about 104,000 times.

*In 75 percent of the cases, it was kids with disabilities who were restrained or secluded.

A 2009 report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office, a nonpartisan congressional investigative agency, counted at least 20 deaths.

By Kymberly Grosso in Autism in Real Life

A urine soaked scream room. A child stuffed in a duffel bag. Vinegar soaked cotton balls put in a child’s mouth. Slapped on the head with plastic bottles. Child dragged through a playground across asphalt with pants down. Shoved to the floor and dead from asphyxiation. Handcuffed and duct-taped. Degraded. Dehumanized. Traumatized. Mob stories? No, it is just a scratch of the surface of what has happened to children in special education in the past year. Not in a third world country, but here in America. Continue reading: Scream Room by The Atlantic 

ATLANTA (CN) – Parents claim two special education teachers assaulted and battered their disabled son so badly he died from the abuse.

Ronald and Arthalia Hatcher sued the Fulton County School District, the Fulton County School Board, Fulton County Superintendent Robert Avossa, special education teachers Melanie Pickens and Katherine Dorn Durden, and 15 other Fulton County public school employees, in Fulton County State Court.

This from Bedford VA, provided by Georgia: Families Against Restraint And Seclusion

Bedford County’s school board and several current and former school employees are facing a $20 million lawsuit.

According to the lawsuit, a 14-year-old autistic boy was attacked on his school bus by people who were supposed to protect him.

Video captured from a school bus surveillance camera appears to show an adult woman kicking and hitting a young boy. Attorneys say the women is Mary Alice Evans, a former Bedford County teacher’s aide.

YONKERS (JN) — A 16-year-old boy died shouting, “I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe!” as eight staff members piled onto him on a basketball court at Leake & Watts residential treatment center, a witness told The Journal News.

Corey Foster was being ordered to leave the gym with other students when he took a shot that ricocheted off the basket into the head of one employee.

Another worker then pushed Foster against a wall, and Foster “went for his leg,” said witness William Green, 18. That’s when the staffers converged and took Foster down, Green said.

After Foster said he couldn’t breathe, one staffer replied, “If you can’t breathe, you wouldn’t be talking.” That same person then punched Foster in the head, Green said, adding “I saw the fist connect.” Green, as he was being forced out, said he saw foam coming out of Foster’s mouth.

The account mirrors the statements of two other witnesses, who said several boys were shooting hoops when the staff ordered them to clear the court so they could play. Staff piled onto Foster after he became angry, they said.

“When they got off of him, he was on the ground and wasn’t responsive,” said Antonio Reeder, 17, a resident.

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — A school resource officer placed two disabled elementary school students in handcuffs because they were acting out, causing physical and emotional pain to the children, their mothers say in a federal lawsuit filed against the official and his boss, the county sheriff.

In a video of one of the incidents released by the American Civil Liberties Union – which filed the lawsuit Monday on behalf of the two women from northern Kentucky – an 8-year-old boy struggles and cries out as he sits in a chair, the handcuffs around his biceps and his arms locked behind him.

“You don’t get to swing at me like that,” School Resource Officer Kevin Sumner tells the boy in the video, which was taken by a school administrator. “You can do what we’ve asked you to, or you can suffer the consequences.” It was not clear why the administrator took the video, and school officials had not responded to a request for comment Tuesday.

The handcuffs were too large to fit around the boy’s wrists as well as those of the second child, a 9-year-old girl, the lawsuit says. Both children have been diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and are identified in court documents only by their initials. The lawsuit says school officials were aware of the students’ disabilities, which include “impulsivity, and difficulty paying attention, complying with directives, controlling emotions and remaining seated.”

Col. Pat Morgan with the Kenton County Sheriff’s Office declined to comment Monday, saying the office had not been officially notified of the lawsuit.

This comment came from a seventh grader: His story is horrifying. It sounds like the torture that took place in Abu Ghraib. Bright lights, loud music, restraints, death by torture, humiliation, suggested suicide.

I was sent to a special ed class when I was in 2nd grade, halfway through the year. It was terrible, they were constantly ‘restraining’ the kids and I had to go through so much. My mom at that time constantly bragged about how awesome the ‘quiet’ room was. Out of the rest of the kids, most of them weren’t even very disabled, and very few were below average. One kid was there just because of humming, and was restrained constantly for no reason, along with the others. But as I saw all of these things happening, I always had one reaction, justice. Whenever I saw a teacher restrain a kid, I punched the teacher, while they were restraining the kid (2nd-3rd grade), the teacher had to let go of the kid, giving them time to run, and I sacrificed myself instead. While In the room, they would mock the kids, laugh at them and were smiling the whole time, but when other parents or kids came down, they said they hate doing it. Then it all changed, because I got changed special ed classes because of Intermediate elementary (4th-6th), which is when I got new teachers, which were quite ‘different’. They most of the time rarely used it, but when they did, they absolutely ruined kids lives. One of the kids mom (single mom (Latino family (only child))) had CANCER!! And he was the one who was treated the worst out of all of them, why? Because they picked up on my behavior towards their restraints, so whenever I ‘did’ something (which was usually another kid saying I did something I didn’t and then the teachers took their word for it no matter what), they put a kid in there, forcing me to just watch, in awe of how brutal they were. But what when I look back, I noticed they did the worst, was their treatment towards autistic kids. As I said before one of the kids was their because of his humming, which was stimming… And he constantly was put into stressful situations from the kids bullying (lying to the teachers). Eventually he was in burnout at age 11! And the teachers shined lights in his face and played loud music. Now your getting an idea of how I act and they punish me, well they did a similar thing to me for my non-neurotypical actions, they shined a flashlight my his eyes whenever I did anything autistic. What’s crazy is I didn’t go into burnout, I don’t know why, but I haven’t gone into burnout. I was never thrown in the quiet room which made me feel remorseful a lot. I realized what they were trying to get me to do… commit suicide, because they have this group that meets every Tuesday, and during that group, they talked about suicide, a lot. But they weren’t against suicide, they were for it, and said things like: “if the columbine shooters just would’ve committed suicide like they should’ve, nobody would’ve died, except them”. At sixth grade at least two of them had committed suicide, but I hadn’t still, because I had a cause, telling the world of what their doing. I am in 7th grade, still recovering from PTSD and depression. Please share my story, it would mean what’s left of my concept of reality to me.

Shining lights in someone’s eye is not normally abuse. One of the symptoms of autism is sensory processing disorder (we feel bright, loud, painful, soft, delicious, and more) And burnout I cannot explain that well, watch this “ask an autistic” video to know what burnout is.

“Thank you… It meant a lot to me that you are getting this published. I had to sneak pass my parents and wrote it at 1 am. It was difficult but it was worth it.”

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