Children are being confined in a room by several schools across Illinois. But the reason prompted for using this harsh method is often against the law.
Among other things, schools are meant to be an educative place where a child is taught to learn new information, processes, and understand the significance of working as a team. Of course, there are several disciplinary measures put in place to help guide the students in the most effective manner. But are the practice of such actions legal? This was the question asked by ProPublica Illinois and the Tribune when they began investigating the existence of 'The Quiet Rooms' in Illinois public schools. These schools employ seclusion as a method to discipline their students, and every time they do so, they are required by the state law to create a detailed record of it.
Through this joint investigation, it was found that over 20,000 instances of seclusion came alone from the 2017-18 school year. After an analysis of the data, only 12,000 contained enough details which prompted the reason behind using this harsh method. Surprisingly, in over a third of these incidents, there was no safety reason documented by the school workers. As for the state education officials, they remain unaware of these repeated violations as no one monitors the use of seclusion in schools. Meanwhile, parents are shockingly kept in the dark about the events or are provided minimal details regarding it.
Many of these kids are kept in isolation is due to their disorderly and sometimes violent behavior (including biting, hitting, and kicking). When things get out of control, employees resort to this means which without a doubt could be challenging for them. School workers say that such a practice is conducted to keep the classroom safe and provide disruptive students a place to calm down. However, special-education experts, disability advocates, and administrators in schools have voiced their disagreement about using such a method explaining how there are better alternatives to handle it.
In schools across Illinois, children are routinely locked in tiny rooms, alone, sometimes for hours. It’s called “isolated timeout" and it's supposed to keep children safe. Instead, they're often traumatized. It happens every day — with no state oversight: https://t.co/H0nUAS4Bic— ProPublica Illinois (@ProPublicaIL) 19 November 2019
Having banned seclusion, they argue that how this arrangement is not proven to be therapeutic or having any educational value to it. In fact, it traumatizes children. Sadly, there are no federal laws regulating the use of solitary confinement. A bill was also introduced to prohibit seclusion in public schools that received federal funding last fall, but apart from a US House committee hearing in January, there has been no action. Currently, there are nineteen states restricting the use of leaving a child in a locked room, while four of them bans any kind of seclusion. Unfortunately, Illinois continues to put this horrific method in practice.
9/ Darla Knipe of Danville did not get any of these details about her son until we showed her his records. She knew that her son was frequently in seclusion but didn’t know what happened. She had only gotten the check-mark forms. pic.twitter.com/RJqLwvOiQ9— ProPublica Illinois (@ProPublicaIL) 20 November 2019
During this expansive investigation, the outlet conducted over 120 interviews with school officials, parents, and children and provided a detailed analysis of this practice in Illinois. While some schools used a padded room to keep the students in, there were many who used a 3 feet wide, 3 feet deep and 7 feet tall time-out box which was compared to a phone booth. "If (students are) committed to hurting someone, that room is a way to keep them safe," said the director of student services for Community Consolidated School District 15, Alicia Corrigan, who runs a therapeutic day program in Rolling Meadows for 40 children with disabilities. At the Tri-County Special Education district in Carbondale, students were often kept in isolation long after the threat was over, according to the records. Director Jan Pearcy of the Tri-County reportedly said that the practice ended this year.
13/ If you are the parent of a child enrolled at an Illinois school and believe they are being secluded or restrained, you can request records about your child. Here is our simple guide on how to do that. If you’d like to share that info with us, email seclus[email protected] pic.twitter.com/hkm7SnQXaB— ProPublica Illinois (@ProPublicaIL) 20 November 2019
In south suburban Oak Forest, Braun Educational Center kept a sign which read: "If you walk to the door or open it you WILL earn" a visit to the "isolation and reflection" room. But the school's director refused to agree that it was a threat and explained how it was a mere visual reminder that leaving the classroom was a violation of the school's rules. Moreover, administrators in some districts argued that putting a child in a room without a door is not considered isolation even if they are prevented from leaving it. Records at Bridges reveal how the staff violated the state's laws by placing students in the secluded space for merely talking back or swearing.
2/ Schools must inform parents if their child was secluded or restrained, but parents are often left in the dark. Here's a form from a school in Danville, Illinois, notifying a parent that their child was secluded and restrained. Notice anything?— ProPublica Illinois (@ProPublicaIL) 20 November 2019
There are check marks.
That’s it. pic.twitter.com/W5HiVLBlov
In March 2018, a boy argued with a Bridges' staff member and was kept in isolation for nearly five hours. "I don’t want to go in a booth," he said. "You’ll lock me in there all day." Sadly none of the parents were informed about the extent of the schools' punishments which often turn out to harmful for the kids. In one such incident, Darla Knipe walked over to a timeout room and heard a thudding noise. On questioning the aide about it, she was terrified to find that it was her 7-year-old son, Isaiah, a first-grader who was constantly pounding his head against the concrete and plywood walls at Middlefork School in Danville. That's when she discovered that her son had been put in the timeout room regularly starting from kindergarten.
3/ We obtained thousands of records from school districts across Illinois that detail incidents of seclusion and restraint. Here is one example from an incident at Middlefork School ...— ProPublica Illinois (@ProPublicaIL) 20 November 2019
Providing an alternative measure the outlet reported how Jim Nelson who took over North DuPage Special Education Cooperative removed doors from the seclusion room at Lincoln Academy in July 2016. The room has now been converted into a "lava lamp, fuzzy pillows, a beanbag and puzzles, and students go there on their own when they need a break," said Nelson according to Chicago Tribune. "We have outbursts every day," added Nelson, but "you are now trying to figure out what is the root of this outburst: Is it a home issue, a bus issue, a peer issue, a relationship issue, environment or fluorescent lights? We have to problem-solve."