What is the last resort when disciplining students? Wanting to maintain safety for all students and teachers, some schools are turning to “seclusion rooms” – small rooms that may or may not have been storage closets – for detaining special needs students.
Special education teachers put students in seclusion rooms when students are verbally or physically aggressive. Now some parents are speaking out about the rooms, saying they’re being misused. In April, Michael and Elizabeth St. Vincent of Tennessee said their autistic son, Andrew, was often confined to a seclusion room while attending the Williamson County School District. “I would cry because I was being put in a room and I couldn’t even have my voice heard,” he said in a USA Today article.
Brendon Spencer, a student in a Mantua, a town outside Cleveland, has ADHD, Asperger’s Syndrome, and anxiety and mood disorders. He says he was secluded multiple times at elementary school, yet the school denies even having a seclusion room.
The disconnect is understandable. A study showed that teachers across Ohio lacked training on how to use seclusion rooms. In fact, The Columbus Dispatch and StateImpact Ohio found that many schools with seclusion rooms have staff trained on how to work with special needs students and students with behavioral students, but did not train their staff on how to use seclusion rooms specifically.
Seclusion rooms are part of an effort to “mainstream” special needs children into regular classrooms. Educators say they’re a way to deal with potentially violent distractions without stopping class. However, in 2008, The New York Times reported on a federal study that showed “even defying a teacher’s instructions — ‘noncompliance’ — can invite a takedown or time alone in a locked room…” While states including Michigan, California, Tennessee, Iowa, Pennsylvania and New York have either tightened or considered tightening seclusion room and restraint regulations since then, the controversy persists.
Are schools being too reactionary or is this the most humane solution for students? Does your school use seclusion rooms? Is the goal merely to calm the student down, or are they used as a deterrent against future visits? We welcome your thoughts in the comments.