A Shocking Disciplinary Practice In Public Schools – Why Did It Go Unchecked For So Long?

Every parent knows that each child – their child – has unique needs, and each parent must find what works for them in order to raise them to be healthy and happy individuals.

This is true of discipline, and parents must be the ultimate authority in disciplinary matters involving their child in schools and childcare centers.

So a recent investigation into one state’s disciplinary approach in schools has left parents and state officials shocked to the core.

Parents are often contacted by their child’s school when disciplinary action is to be taken.  This can be an in-school suspension, detention, or a verbal warning – but it is always difficult for parents to hear their child is having problems in the classroom.

And then there are children with special needs or behavioral challenges whose parents must work closely with school staff in order to determine an appropriate approach to help the child succeed.

While it may be appropriate for an overwhelmed or aggressive child to have some quiet time away in order to decompress and calm themselves, this investigation uncovered a horrific practice in the state of Illinois.

It’s the use of “isolation rooms,” and it’s as bad as the name indicates.

Some schools call them “quiet rooms,” “reflection rooms,” or “calming rooms,” but these labels are just a way to make the shocking practice of isolated seclusion sound acceptable.

The use of locked seclusion rooms is an outdated practice that is still legal in several states.  They are meant to be used only in emergency situations where a child is considered a danger to other children, staff, or themselves.

But the state of Illinois has still readily practiced the use of isolated seclusion.  In fact, Illinois leads the nation when compared to use in other states.

Some children are sent to isolation due to violent behavior such as hitting or kicking, biting, or causing a major disruption in class.  

But the recent investigation, a joint effort between the Chicago Tribune and ProPublica, uncovered the shocking misuse of this form of “time out.”

Not only are children with special needs and behavioral issues being routinely locked in isolation in the state, it appears it has been used repeatedly for minor infractions such as refusing to do an assignment, swearing, throwing toys – even spilling a drink.

The investigation found that many school employees use isolation out of convenience or frustration – and parents and state officials are often told little to nothing when this action is taken.

More than 20,000 uses of isolated seclusion in 2017 and 2018 were reviewed.  Some records provided little detail about the reason for isolation, and the ones that did showed that more than a third of all incidents did not involve any type of safety concern.

Teachers’ aides described locked and padded rooms and heartbreaking stories of children crying, begging to be let out, ramming their heads into the walls, and screaming for their parents.

Social workers and even school security guards have been recorded as the “trained adult” who determined when a child should be locked in one of these isolation rooms.

These students often have special needs and are put in locked isolation for hours at a time, missing class time while being traumatized by the experience.

Much of the information used in the investigation comes from staffers like aides who remain outside the locked door while writing a written report about each incident.

Records show that children as young as kindergarten age have been put in isolation – tens of thousands of unjustified reports of an archaic practice that has gone unchecked for far too long.

Illinois School Superintendent Carmen Ayala said that isolated seclusion and physical restraint have been “misused and overused to a shocking extent,” in the state, according to ABC News. 

In response to what the investigation uncovered, Illinois Governor Jay Pritzker has ordered an immediate restriction on the use of isolation rooms for non-violent students in state schools.

“Isolated seclusion will end now. It traumatizes children, does lasting damage to the most vulnerable and violates the most deeply held values of my administration and the state of Illinois,” the Governor said in a statement, according to ABC News.

Emergency rules in regard to the practice have been released, while representatives in the state have said they will introduce legislation officially banning the practice entirely.

Other immediate action to be taken by the Illinois State Board of Education includes investigating every case of the use of isolation in the past, strict reporting guidelines, and legal action against anyone who has used isolation rooms illegally.

The ISBE has also said they will ban the use of isolated seclusion in all public schools effective immediately and will release strict guidelines on the use of restraints in situations involving violent children.

They intend to require every staff member who uses any form of “time out” to strictly record the incident, contact the parent immediately – including when and if the practice was used previously without parental notification – and require state inspections of “quiet” rooms – rooms that will no longer be locked and in which a trained staffer must remain with the child and work through the incident appropriately.

It’s frightening to think about how many more children would have been traumatized by this horrific practice had this investigation not been conducted by concerned parties.

But for the parents who are already dealing with the trauma of having had their child locked in isolation, it is too little, too late.

The investigation will continue, as will training of staff in Illinois public schools, to make sure this traumatic “disciplinary practice” is never used again.

What do you think of the shocking use of unchecked isolated seclusion in Illinois’ public schools?  Leave us your comments.

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