In New Jersey, the Monroe School District is Putting Children in Solitary Confinement

Whitehall Elemenary School seclusion room

In New Jersey, Monroe Townships School Districts are using solitary confinement, hidden as “timeout rooms” or “calm-down spaces” to punish children in their school districts. A child who has ADHD and is on the autism spectrum came home from Whitehall Elementary School, recounted to his mother and father that he had, “been put in a room for time out.” When asked to describe the room, he called it a little room, almost like a jail. The truth of it was even worse. When parents visited the school, they were given firsthand views of the time out room, and the description of a jail was generous. “This is solitary confinement,” the father, Scott Reiss said of the padded room. “This is unacceptable.”

The seclusion room is a space sectioned off in a corner of a special needs classroom, with padded walls and floors that are usually found in a gym. The room, as explained by Superintendent Richard Perry, “is utilized in conjunction with special education related services and interventions, involving behavioral disabilities in which students may become violent toward other students and staff and/or causing harm to themselves. Also, other students, who are classified, utilize this space as a means of safety when they feel emotionally overwhelmed.”

But the seclusion room looks more like solitary confinement than a room where disabled students can “calm down.” It doesn’t seem like any student can potentially calm themselves after outbursts in such a small, confined space. Instead, it pushes disabled children in a space where they can neither be seen nor heard. While the superintendent claimed that every parent is informed of the room and a report is filed when a child is put in the room, after Reiss went public with the photos, other parents voiced their concerns because they also didn’t know the room existed.

Instead of padded walls, an inviting space could be infinitely more successful in calming a student. Stephanie Reiss, the child’s mother suggested an area with partial walls, beanbag chairs and child-friendly accommodations: “All I want is a better, acceptable space for the kids to calm down. That’s all I want.”

The use of physical restraint and seclusion techniques on students with disabilities is permitted by a state law enacted by Christie in January before he left office. The measure does not specify what a seclusion space should look like. However, it does require prior written consent of the student’s primary care physician, unless the space is needed in an emergency to keep the student or others physically safe. The state law does not apply to the use of “timeout” which it describes as “the monitored separation of a student in a non-locked setting and is implemented for the purpose of calming.”

Though the bill had wide bipartisan support, it raises questions. Lacking specific guidelines on seclusion or time-out rooms, instances like the padded solitary room in Whitehall can be considered an acceptable form of removing an unruly student.

Even though Superintendent Perry has stated that the room is not used as a punishment, the padded walls and mats look far more punitive than relocating a student to have them calm down. If grown adults are affected negatively from such solitary confinement, why do we subject young children to the same? “This is unacceptable.”

Inside the seclusion room

England’s seclusion rooms form a landscape of atrocity and shame

In 2017, New Zealand banned schoolhouse seclusion rooms. On Friday, a report came out indicating that across England primary and secondary schools are routinely using “seclusion rooms”. The report suggested that both the scale and frequency of use is much higher than expected: “Many schools use them as part of an escalating set of disciplinary measures. Our research found over two-thirds of the country’s largest academy trusts have schools that use some form of isolation, although with varying labels from `inclusion units’ and `consequence booths’ to `time-out spaces’ and `calm rooms’.” The isolation cells are used from the first year. Primary school students can stay in for a day at a time; secondary school students can stay in for five consecutive days. The torture of solitary confinement clothed in the language of inclusion, consequence, time-out and calm is the lesson children across England – and Canada and the United States and beyond – are learning in an age of expanding and intensifying zero tolerance. While A Critique of Pure Tolerance once inspired a generation of activists to action, today we need A Critique of Zero Tolerance. We need it, and, even more, our children and grandchildren need it … now.

In August, a report noted that exclusion, or out-of-school suspension, was rampant in secondary schools across England. 45 schools suspended at least 20% of their students, with some schools topping 40%. In September, a follow up report noted the rampant use of isolation booths, variously referred to as “consequences rooms” or “internal exclusion.” The line from “internal exclusion” to alienation to abnegation to death-in-life to lifelong trauma is direct.

August, September, October, another month, another discovery … of a phenomenon taking place all over the country. Founded in 2013, the TBAP Multi-Academy Trust “supports learners who are experiencing difficulty with or have been excluded from mainstream education.” The people at TBAP Multi-Academy Trust know that seclusion rooms don’t work and, equally important, are bad for all children and all learners. Last year, TBAP Multi-Academy Trust Chairman of the Board Paul Dix wrote, “A room with isolation booths is the bleakest sign of an institution giving up. It shouts ‘we don’t know what to do’ at children who often don’t know what they’ve done wrong. Look around inside any isolation room where children are separated for long periods of time from the rest of the school, and I would lay good money that more than 80% of the children in there have additional needs. Some will have a diagnosed special educational need or disability, others will be struggling with hidden that are all too obvious to those who work with them every day: trauma, anxiety, attachment, grief, or plain old-fashioned neglect. The sins of the adult world are soaked up by a minority of children. Then we stick them in a booth and call it education. The booths are a shame on all of us, not the children who are forced to sit in them.”

How many more times must we “discover” that throwing children into seclusion rooms, no matter what they’re called, is wrong? Why do we need to discuss whether the rooms “work” or are too “costly”? What about the cost to children’s lives? What about the cost, as well, to the very concept of education? What does a child learn when exclusion is called inclusion, terror is called calm, and a war on childrenis called education? We should all be ashamed. Are we?

 

(Photo Credit: Cambridgeshire Live)

Seclusion rooms: Alberta, Canada’s war on children living with disabilities

A seclusion room in an Alberta school

“This was inhumane. This was treating him like an animal,” said Marcy Oakes. “This” was, and is, an exclusion room, in this instance one in the Clover Bar Junior High School, part of the Elk Island Public Schools, in Sherwood Park, Alberta, Canada. According to Marcy Oakes and Warren Henschel, in 2015, their then-13-year-old son, Aidan, was dumped in a seclusion room. At some point later, someone looked in, and saw Aidan naked and covered in feces. The school took a photo, sent it to the parents, and told them to come fetch their son. Henschel remembers: “I could hear my son quietly whimpering. When I looked inside the room, it’s hard to describe my feelings.” Aidan is non-verbal and lives with autism and developmental disabilities. Mary Oakes explains, “My son does not take his clothes off willingly in a room unless he has been taught that. In the back of my mind, I will never know – because he can’t speak – how much they put him in that room.” Marcy Oakes and Warren Henschel are suing the Alberta government, the Elk Island Public School Board, the school’s principal, and the teacher. The School Board says it will “strongly defend the actions of our staff”. Who on the School Board strongly defends the lives of its students?

As a result of Aidan’s story, and others similar and worse, Inclusion Alberta launched an online survey to find out what exactly is going on in Alberta’s school systems. There’s no hard data on children being placed in seclusion rooms. The schools don’t keep records; the schools aren’t mandated to keep records. Additionally, there’s no set policy, other than vague “as a last resort” language, concerning the use of seclusion rooms. Just last week, Alberta Education Minister David Eggen announced that he expects the province to issue guidelines concerning the use of seclusion rooms within “a matter of weeks.” As of now, there’s only verbal night and fog. It’s not even clear if the Alberta government knows how many seclusion rooms there are, and what makes a seclusion room a seclusion room.

According to Bruce Uditsky, CEO Emeritus of Inclusion Alberta, speaking of the treatment Aidan suffered, “It’s not just about the use of seclusion in this instance; it’s about the abandonment and neglect and abuse that any of us would typically understand in any other circumstances, and how come it’s acceptable and tolerated in a school where we expect children to be safe and we’re to trust educators.”

Story after story, expert after expert, year in and year out, argue that seclusion rooms only serve to traumatize children and that there are better, evidence-proven ways of addressing `difficult behaviors.’  This year began with New Zealand outlawing the use of seclusion rooms in schools. In May 2018, Inclusion BC reported extensive and systemic use of seclusion rooms across British Columbia. This year’s report was a follow-up to a report in 2013, that led to voluntary guidelines finally being passed in 2015. According to Inclusion BC, only in three British Columbian school boards has adopted any policy concerning constraint and seclusion. And now it’s September, and Alberta “discovers” its lack of guidelines, which is it say, its policy of refusal.

Recently, a team of Canadian researchers studied “children’s moral experiences of crisis management in a child mental health setting.” The researchers asked children 12 and under living with severe disruptive disorders what they thought of the use of restraints and seclusion: “Children considered restraints and seclusion could help them feel safe in certain instances, for example if another child was being aggressive towards them or in exceptional cases to prevent self-injury. However, their own experiences of being restrained were predominantly negative, especially if not knowing the reason for their use, which they then found unfair. Some of the children emphasized the punitive nature of the use of restraints and seclusion, and most children disagreed with these practices when used as a punishment. Children’s perspectives also highlighted the limits of the use of a uniform de-escalation approach by the staff to manage crises. Children considered discussing with the staff and developing a relationship with them as more helpful in case of a crisis then the use of a de-escalation approach or coercive strategies.”

Seclusion rooms become part of the regular “arsenal” of education in response to budgets and resources. Staff are insufficiently trained to work with diverse populations, as the populations become increasingly diverse. Solitary confinement cells are built and children are thrown in. What do children learn in that process? Who cares? Who asks the children what they think? “This was inhumane. This was treating him like an animal.”

 

(Photo Credit: Sherwood Park News / Inclusion Alberta)

Across the United States, children living with disabilities face the torture of school seclusion

In Loudon County, Virginia, 13-year-old Gigi Daniel-Zagorites lives with Phelan-McDermid syndrome, “a disorder that hampers her ability to speak.” In her middle school, one day in September, a fellow classmate took a picture of Gigi being “secluded”. Someone, teachers presumably, took a bookcase and a cabinet and built an enclosure in the corner of the classroom. Gigi was dumped in there, and two adults stood, or sat, guard. In the picture, Gigi is trying to get out or at least see over the barricades. Months later, her mother, Alexa Zagorites, is still asking questions and still getting no answers. Gigi Daniel-Zagorites and her mother are objects of the national pogrom against children living with disabilities. Like so many others, both Gigi and her mother refuse to be or become the victims that national policy intends for them.

Earlier this month, the New Hampshire Disability Rights Center released a report concerning the abusive seclusion and restraint of a 14-year-old child, called Zach, at the Sununu Youth Services Center. First, Zach was dumped into seclusion which led to two staff members throwing Zach to the ground and “restraining” him face down there. The staff fractured the child’s shoulder blade. Despite New Hampshire law, the restraint and, even more, the injury was not reported for two months. Months later, the Sununu Center continues to withhold information. New Hampshire has “restraint and seclusion” laws, but they all rely on the staff to self-report. The levels of violence form a network of threads of immediate, intimate violence and those of structural violence, all held together by the violence and suffering of family, friends, and community.

Similar stories have been recently reported in IndianaIowa, Florida, and Arizona, to name a few from only the last month or so. Across the country, children in school learn that living with a disability is a crime. It must be a crime, otherwise why would the adult staff members be punishing them so?

Last month, U.S. Department of Education released a report on school climate and safety for 2015 – 2016. It found that Iowa rates had just about doubled. For example, in 2013, 23 school districts in eastern Iowa had 2514 reported instances of seclusion or restraint. In 2015, that number rose to 4,904. A recent Iowa State report describes Davenport as in “systemic non-compliance” of Federal laws concerning the education of students living with disabilities. According to the report, the situation for students of color in Davenport is particularly dire, systemically so. Both of Iowa’s U.S. Senators are calling for a Federal investigation into the use of seclusion rooms. Davenport’s U.S. Representative Dave Loebsack has called for a ban on seclusion rooms.

The report on school climate and safety merely confirmed what we already know. In a nutshell, students living with disabilities constituted 12% of all students enrolled. 12 percent. That very small sector of students living with disabilities constituted 71% of all students restrained and 66% of all students “secluded.”

What crime have these children committed? What is their terrible sin? Why do we continue to send these children into solitary confinement? Why do we continue to torture those who are most vulnerable? When will we stop this practice? What do you think we’re teaching children, all the children in all the schools, when we torture their classmates and then call it “seclusion” and “restraint”?

 

(Infographic Credit: U.S. Department of Education)

New Zealand declares seclusion rooms are unreasonable and oppressive

The seclusion room door

In December 2017, New Zealand’s Chief Ombudsman ruled that a school should pay $3000 and issue a formal apology to the family of an 11-year-old autistic child who was put in a “seclusion room” 13 times in nine days. The seclusion room was a dark cell, without windows or light. The treatment of the child came to his parents’ attention, and then to that of the public, when a behavior therapist came to the school, and found the child alone, unmonitored, and crying for help. That was in October 2016. Soon after, it was “discovered” that the use of seclusion rooms was fairly common in so-called special schools across New Zealand. In November 2016, the Education Minister proposed banning the use of seclusion rooms in schools. That became law in early 2017.  At the end of 2017, New Zealand’s Chief Ombudsman declared the school had acted “unreasonably and oppressively”. Later the Ombudsman explained, “I just think we’ve got to be careful and sensitive about those times when the going gets tough and when we need to, in schools, manage difficult, challenging behaviour like this. This report of ours is a reminder of the need for dignity and humanity at all times and it’s just something we should never ever forget and we should not take our eye off the ball.”

While the decision of the Ombudsman is a positive result, why does it take so much effort to recognize that seclusion rooms are an affront to dignity and humanity? As the Chief Ombudsman noted in his decision, the result only occurred because the child’s parents were furious when they discovered how their child was being abused and, critically, raised a ruckus. Why must parents raise a ruckus to have their children treated decently and humanely?

This isn’t only about minors. Ashley Peacock is an adult living with intellectual disability, autism and mental illness. Under New Zealand’s Mental Health Act, Ashley Peacock was a compulsory, institutionalized patient. In that capacity, Ashley Peacock had been placed in solitary confinement, “seclusion rooms,” for years on end. In 2016, his parents started a national and international campaign to get their son out of the hellhole of solitary confinement and into more appropriate community based services. In 2016, Ashley Peacock was 38 years old. He had spent ten years in “care” institutions. Most of that time, he spent in isolation. In 2017, Ashley Peacock was moved to a community location. In December 2017, New Zealand announced it would phase out seclusion rooms in psychiatric institutions within two years.

Advocates for autistic children worry that, despite the law, schools might still use seclusion rooms. Consider this: no one knows how many hours that eleven-year-old child spent in solitary confinement, crying and pleading for help, because there are no records kept. In other schools, teachers refused to talk to police about their use of seclusion rooms. Hopefully, New Zealand will invest in enforcement of the new laws, but more will be needed. We must ask ourselves about our investment in torture that passes for education, on one hand, and for care, on the other. Why should parents have to be furious in order to keep their children, at all ages, from being tortured? When did solitary confinement become an integral part of education? When did the vulnerable become the execrable, the cursed?

 

(Photo Credit: New Zealand Herald)

In jails and schools across the United States, children suffer solitary confinement

The isolation cell in the juvenile pod at Onondaga County Justice Center

Across the United States, children in elementary schools are being placed in what are called seclusion rooms, a euphemism for solitary confinement. Across the United States, children in juvenile detention are also regularly placed in solitary confinement. Recently a parent in Phoenix, Arizona, expressed dismay at a “seclusion room” in her son’s elementary school. At the same time, in upstate New York, the Onondaga County Legislature voted unanimously to ban youth solitary confinement across the county criminal justice system. While the decision of the Onondaga County board is welcome news, it came as the result of years of organizing from civic and community organizations. Why are we so comfortable with dumping children into boxes, and who are we, who do we become, if we continue to let the practice continue and become every day more normal?

The Phoenix story is both straightforward and bent. Stephanie Vasquez picked a bilingual language immersion school with a good academic reputation for her son. One day, while taking her son to his classroom, she noticed a child, sitting in a windowless room, or closet, that was partially painted black, and had only a desk and chair. Stephanie Vasquez had worked for years as a middle school teacher and then worked as a volunteer teacher in a local women’s prison, and so she recognized the scene: “I was a little taken aback at first. Psychologically, I can only imagine what it does to a young child. It’s solitary confinement, just on a child level … The school-to-prison pipeline is a real thing to me. Having been a teacher for eight years, and then going to Perryville — the correlations between the two are eerie.”

Stephanie Vasquez asked the school about the space, and she was referred to their website, where she learned that those punished for “disruptive behavior” are sent to the room for a maximum of 15 minutes, to which Vasquez responds, “I don’t think it should happen at all … How long should they really even be in a confined black space? Probably never.”

It’s eerie … and altogether commonplace.

The Onondaga County Justice Center opened in 1995, and from its inception to today, the County has described the jail as a “state-of-the-art” facility. Community activists have differed with that description. They pointed to the agonizing death of Chuneice Patterson, in 2009.

Last year, the New York Civil Liberties Union and Legal Services of Central New York filed a suit against the Onondaga County Sheriff’s Office practice of placing 16- and 17-year-olds in solitary confinement at the Justice Center.  They charged that between October 2015 and August 2016, the Onondaga County Justice Center dumped 80 teens, mostly youth of color, into solitary confinement. In January, the civil rights division of the United States Department of Justice gave formal support to that lawsuit. In February 2017, a Federal judge ordered a halt to the practice. In June, the New York Civil Liberties Union and Legal Services of Central New York arrived at a settlement with the Onondaga County Sheriff’s Office, and in September, the Legislature voted unanimously to ban the practice.

Why does it take so much time and energy to stop torturing children? Stephanie Vasquez saw a child in a closet and knew it was solitary confinement. Others saw “the box” at Onondaga and knew it was a cage. Stephanie Vasquez knew children were being treated as prisoners; and others knew child prisoners were being treated as animals; and the sequence of alchemical transmutation continues straight to hell. In both Arizona and New York, the specific institutions claim to be state-of-the-art, and they are. They were designed by the best in the field. What does that say about our art? Where is the art in dumping children into closets, boxes, and cages? How long should a child be in a confined black space? Never.

Those in isolation are allowed one hour a day in this `recreation’ space.

 

(Photo Credits: Syracuse.com)

Children are disappearing into the night and fog of solitary confinement in jails and schools

A seclusion room in Horn Elementary School in Iowa City

Across the United States, we continue to torture children by throwing them into segregated, solitary confinement, and this happens as often in schools as it does in jails in prisons. Children are disappearing. That children are disappearing is not new. That we continue to disappear children is also not new, but it is shameful, and it’s a shame that reaches every day deeper and deeper into our collective spirit and individual souls.

Last week, the civil rights division of the United States Department of Justice gave formal support to a lawsuit filed last year against the Onondaga County Sheriff’s Office for its ongoing and regular practice of placing 16- and 17-year-olds in solitary confinement at the county jail. Last year, the New York Civil Liberties Union and Legal Services of Central New York charged that, between October 2015 and August 2016, the Onondaga County Justice Center dumped 80 teens, mostly youth of color, into solitary confinement. The Department of Justice endorsement of the case noted, “The Civil Rights Division has previously exercised the United States’ authority under CRIPA and Section 14141 to address issues related to the use of solitary confinement on juveniles in jails, including in the Jefferson County Jail in Alabama, the Hinds County Jail in Mississippi, the New York City Department of Correction Jails on Rikers Island, and the Baltimore City Detention Center in Maryland. The Division also has addressed the use of solitary confinement in juvenile detention facilities, including in the Scioto and Marion Juvenile Correctional Facilities in Ohio and the Leflore County Juvenile Detention Center in Mississippi.”

According to Donna Lieberman, NYCLU Executive Director, “The Department of Justice’s involvement shows that what is happening to children at the Justice Center is not simply a tragedy for Syracuse, but it is a national disgrace. Children must be protected from the tortures of solitary confinement.”

The disgrace is not limited to prisons and jails. Last month, a complaint was filed against the Iowa City school district, charging that the district’s use of seclusion rooms violates Federal law, primarily because parents don’t know that the seclusions rooms exist and are being used and because the use of seclusion rooms is broader and more `ordinary’ than the law allows. During the 2013-14 school year, most of the students dumped into solitary confinement were students with diagnosed disabilities and individualized education plans. Half of the students with education plans who were sent to seclusion rooms were Black. Other than students with education plans, ALL of the students dumped into seclusion rooms in the 2013 – 2014 were Black. Black students comprise about 19% of the school population.

The good news, such as it is, is that these dismal mathematics are being challenged, and that occasionally something like decency wins. Torturing children is wrong. Children do matter. So do the adults who surround them. At the same time, consider how much energy, labor, work, investment is required to protect children, our children, your children, their children, from torture, every single day. Every single day, across the United States, children are disappearing, forgotten children who haunt the days and ways of our world.

 

(Photo Credit: The Gazette)

In Georgia, for children with disabilities, school is a prison

Georgia continues its war on children living with disabilities. Once, Georgia public schools had “seclusion rooms”. The doors were double bolted on the outside. In 2004, Jonathan King, 13, hanged himself in one such room, a stark, 8-foot-by-8-foot “timeout” room in a Gainesville public school.” In 2010, six years later, Georgia finally passed a law that protects all students from seclusion and restraint.

Seclusion rooms continue in schools across the country. Just this year, Virginia finally passed a law limiting seclusion rooms and the use of force in restraining children. The Virginia legislature only passed this law after the story of the continued abuse, call it torture, of 10-year-old Carson Luke began circulating. Many state legislatures have yet to address seclusion rooms.

It’s been five years since Georgia outlawed seclusion rooms in public schools. So, how are children with disabilities being treated in Georgia’s schools? According to the U.S. Department of Justice, criminally. On July 15, the Department of Justice sent the Governor and Attorney General its Investigation of the Georgia Network for Educational and Therapeutic Support, twenty-one pages of pain and suffering applied to thousands of children.

The Georgian Network for Educational and Therapeutic Support, or GNETS, has been running since 1970. Jonathan King attended a GNETS school. Presently about 5000 children attend GNETS schools. There are 25 GNETS programs, costing about $70 million this year alone. Georgia doesn’t consider GNETS facilities “schools” but rather “special entities”. It doesn’t take much to get a child sent to GNETS: “Our review of records indicated, that their children were often immediately referred to the GNETS Program after one incident or several interrelated incidents associated with a single event or problem, such as using inappropriate language with a teacher on more than one occasion.”

GNETS is both separate but unequal Jim Crow and prison. First separate but unequal: “The State’s administration of the GNETS Program results in inequality of educational opportunities for students in the Program. Students in the GNETS Program generally do not receive grade-level instruction that meets Georgia’s State Standards like their peers in general education classrooms. Rather, particularly at the high school level, students in the GNETS Program often receive only computer-based instruction. By contrast, their peers in general education classrooms generally receive instruction from a teacher certified in the subject matter they are teaching, and in the case of students with disabilities, also from a teacher certified in special education. Students in the GNETS Program also often lack access to electives and extracurricular activities, such as after-school athletics or clubs … Many of the students in the GNETS Program attend school in inferior facilities in various states of disrepair that lack many of the features and amenities of general education schools, such as gymnasiums, cafeterias, libraries, science labs, music rooms, or playgrounds. Some GNETS Centers are located in poor-quality buildings that formerly served as schools for black students during de jure segregation, which have been repurposed to house the GNETS Program.”

How have these Jim Crow schools been “repurposed to house the GNETS Program”? “We visited the Flint Area GNETS Program, where over 40 students are placed in GNETS Classrooms in a segregated wing of a general education high school. Students in the GNETS Program have separate restrooms located within their wing. Although students in the GNETS Program eat lunch in the high school cafeteria, they have a separate lunch period, during which time no general education students are present. The GNETS Program wing has its own building entrance with a metal detector that GNETS Program students must pass through before entering the school building. By contrast, the general education students enter the school through the front door of the same large building, where there are no metal detectors. GNETS Program staff reported that none of the GNETS Program students have any interaction with their general education peers during the school day, even though they attend school in the same building. Similarly, our investigation found that a GNETS Classroom in the Northwest Georgia GNETS Program is located in the basement of a general education school with its own separate entrance. The students in this GNETS Classroom reportedly never leave the basement or interact with any other students during the school day. There is a large sign hanging at the front of this GNETS Classroom that says `DETENTION,’ because the Classroom is also used for detention outside regular school hours.”

Georgia has bypassed the school-to-prison pipeline in favor of the school-as-prison: “One student in the GNETS Program stated, `School is like prison where I am in the weird class.’ He attributes this in large part to isolation and distance from other students in the general education community … One parent stat[ed], `Once you are in GNETS you are considered a ‘bad kid.’ It’s a warehouse for kids the school system doesn’t want or know how to deal with.’ Several parents and students … compared the GNETS Program to prisons.”

The State “relocates” generations of children into inferior and destructive structures, warehouses, prisons, and calls it education? That’s not education. That’s apartheid. It’s war by another name. End the war on children living with disabilities. End the war on children. Do it now.

 

(Opening image credit: Ward Zwart / New York Times) (Closing image credit: http://revolutionarypaideia.com)

Children in torture chambers in schools across the United States

Disturbing reports came out this week that show that children, overwhelmingly children living with disabilities, are kept in solitary confinement across the United States. In some places, the rooms are called “seclusion rooms” and, in other places, “scream rooms.” Call them what they are: solitary confinement, the hole, torture chambers.

Torture is not too grand or extreme a description. Children have committed suicide in these rooms, in schools like the ones around the corner from you. Children have come home with injuries which needed surgery. Often, staff caused these injuries. Across the country, children, and their parents, live with symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder. The list goes on.

This is part of a national war on children. The incarceration and torture of children in schools occurs at a time when girls are being sent to jail for status offenses while boys are not. Taken together, this is the national policy of protection for children, for children with special needs, and for girls. And if you’re a girl with special needs, you’re in trouble. We have traveled far, and quickly, from the days of “suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven.”

At the national level, the only shock here are the numbers, which are assumed to be lower than the actual incidences, and the shock, the fact that, despite report after report after report after report, each report is `surprising’. Amnesia has always been the alibi for the citizens of the Torture State. It allows us to forget that our elected representatives killed legislation that would end the policy of school-based solitary confinement. It allows us to forget that some places in the country, like Montgomery County, Virginia, have done away seclusion rooms and replaced them with healthier, more reliable systems that actually work. It allows us to forget both evidence and hope.

So as not to forget, here’s a story, taken from a US Senate staff report issued this past February. The report finds such cases occur across the country. Minnesota is an instance, not an exception:

Minnesota: In January 2004, an eight-year-old girl began attending Jefferson Elementary School in the Willmar Public School District. Her mother described her as a `little girl who loved to go to school, even though the child had been diagnosed with a communication disorder and designated as developmentally delayed with speech and language impairment at age three.

“Since kindergarten, the girl’s IEP had included a behavioral intervention plan that authorized the use of restraints and seclusions when she exhibited certain behaviors. Eventually, the school district and her mother had the child assessed by an outside evaluator, who did not recommend the use of restraints or seclusions. However, the techniques remained in the girl’s behavioral intervention plan during the 2005 to 2006 school year. The mother said she had agreed to the use of seclusion, in an area the school called a `quiet room,’ only if necessary. However, some reports indicate the girl’s teacher secluded her forty-four times in one school year.102 The girl’s mother also said the teacher made the child sit at a `thinking desk’ perfectly still for thirty minutes straight and demeaned and belittled the child when she could not hold this posture. If the girl fidgeted or made any noise, her teacher would yell at her and sometimes put her into restraints, including a prone hold.103 During one incident in April 2006, the teacher forced the girl into the seclusion room while she was on her way to the bathroom, causing the child to urinate on herself.

“Aides reported that the teacher’s classroom, which was somewhat hidden in the basement of Jefferson, was `more a punishment/torture area than a classroom,’ and `run very much like a secret room that you are not supposed to talk about.’”

Suffer the children for of such is the kingdom of heaven.

 

(Image Credit: Ward Zwart / New York Times)

America’s seclusion rooms form a landscape of atrocity

Recently, legislators in Oregon, Arizona, and Indiana began to address so-called seclusion rooms. Seclusion rooms are solitary confinement cells in schools. They’re also called `isolation booths’, `isolation boxes’, and `behavior support’. George Orwell is alive and well, and apparently in charge in the schoolhouses of the United States.

Jared Harrison is now 12 years old. He went to primary school in Eugene, Oregon. According to his testimony, for four years, starting in first grade, he was forced into a seclusion room pretty much every day, often for hours. Further, his parents were never informed. Ever. As his mother, Jennifer Harrison, explained, “”I was never notified. I didn’t know it was happening until I walked in and found him screaming facedown on the ground with two adults sitting on top of him.”

Parents have notified the State that they’re considering a lawsuit.

Parents in Arizona are also suing the State for having put their child in seclusion for hours on end. When the child asked, begged, to go to the bathroom, he was refused. And so finally, he urinated in the cell. The boy’s mother, Leslie Noyes is quite clear on at least one point: ““It’s like five by six, padded walls, no windows.  It is definitely like a cell.” Don’t call those rooms `seclusion rooms’, don’t call them `cool-down’ spaces, and certainly don’t call them `open air rooms’. Call them prison cells.

In Indiana, parents and advocates are also saying those prison cells are not “quiet rooms” or “safe rooms.” They’re specifically not safe because no one monitors the child while she or he is in the cell. They’re simply left there, absolutely alone. That’s not quiet, that’s not safe, and that’s not education. That’s violence.

Repeatedly, the story of violence is at least twofold, and each fold intensifies the other. First, there is the forced seizure and abandonment of a child into a cell for an extended period of time. Second, there is the discovery by the parents of what has been going on. The parents and the children share in the tragedy. When the children testify, the mothers, such as Jennifer Harrison, listen by their side and weep. The violence doesn’t stop once the door to the `seclusion room’ has been opened.

This is a tale of atrocity: “[M]ore often than not, [contemporary psychiatric]’medicine’ is a complete atrocity-comparable only to the history out of which it grew: is four-point restraint-being tied down at the wrists and ankles-an improvement over being bound with chains? Is the cage inhumane whereas the seclusion room is not?”

Speak the truth fearlessly. Solitary confinement in our prisons is torture. Seclusion rooms in our schools are an atrocity. The solitary confinement of seclusion rooms comprises the social human landscape of the United States today. Close the seclusion rooms. Do it now.

 

(Video Credit: Dan Habib / Vimeo)