To discipline misbehaving students, public schools in Ohio and Florida regularly send children to “seclusion” — isolation in a locked cell-like room, old office, or closet, NPR’s State Impact reports. Many of these children are special needs students and their parents are not always told of this disciplinary practice.
Ohio schools — where seclusion is almost completely unregulated — sent students to seclusion rooms 4,236 times in the 2009-2010 school year. Sixty percent of these students had disabilities.
Florida schools secluded students 4,637 times in 2010-2011 and 4,193 in 2011-2012. 42 percent of seclusions were for pre-K through 3rd graders. In the 2011-2012 school year, 300 seclusions lasted more than an hour. The state has just three stipulations for using seclusion rooms: teachers may not choke or suffocate students, the room must be approved by a fire marshal, and the lights must be left on.
A joint report by StateImpact and Columbus Dispatch report found rampant abuse and lack of training of the punishment, which is meant as a last resort to deal with violent children:
But last school year, one Pickerington special-education teacher sent children to a seclusion room more than 60 times, district records show. In nearly all of those incidents, the children were not violent. Often, they were sent to the seclusion room for being “mouthy,” or whining about their school work.
Pickerington Special Education Director Bob Blackburn said the teacher in that classroom was new and that someone in the district has now taught her the right way to use the seclusion room.
Other Pickerington teachers misused the rooms, too, though. In another classroom, children were secluded more than 30 times last school year. Two-thirds of those instances involved misbehavior and not violence, district records show.
Far from benefiting violent or rowdy students, seclusion has been found to be deeply traumatizing, sometimes leading children to hurt or kill themselves. In one special education school in Georgia, a 13-year-old boy hung himself in a seclusion room in November 2004.
“Unfortunately there have been some cases throughout Florida where mostly children with disabilities, autistic kids in particular, have been restrained,” Rep. Ari Porth told StateImpact Florida’s Sarah Gonzalez earlier this year. “I’ve heard on some occasions (students) put in storage closets because the administrator or teacher just doesn’t know how to appropriately handle them.”
Hialeah state Rep. Eddy Gonzalez, a Democrat, introduced a bill this year that would have prohibited schools from secluding students. The bill also limited schools to physically restraining students with disability only when there is “imminent risk of serious injury or death to student or others.”
Only school officials trained to restrain students would be allowed to do so, according to the bill.
The bill died in subcommittee in March.
There are no rules regulating restraint and seclusion in Ohio.