The Iowa Department of Education is investigating a complaint against the Cedar Rapids Community School District for inappropriately secluding a Pierce Elementary third-grader last spring.
The complaint filed Tuesday by Coralville attorney Mary Richard also says the Cedar Rapids Community School District did not report its seclusion statistics to the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights and she said the district has seen rising numbers of students secluded or restrained.
“We’ve received one state complaint involving the Cedar Rapids Community School District and we are investigating it,” Education Department Spokeswoman Staci Hupp confirmed Wednesday.
Seclusion rooms — used in many Iowa districts — are intended to temporarily isolate aggravated students to keep them from harming themselves or others. A 2016 Gazette investigation found some instances where the rooms were used simply to punish bad behavior.
In July, The Gazette reported about a 9-year-old Pierce Elementary student who was held in an unauthorized seclusion room when she could not stop crying.
“I was crying, kicking the door and trying to pull it open,” the girl told The Gazette. “They said, ‘You need to calm down,’ but I couldn’t get out.”
The Gazette did not name the child, who has since moved to another school district.
Photos of the room showed it had brick walls and metal utility boxes, features that don’t comply with Chapter 103 of Iowa Administrative Rules requiring seclusion rooms be “free from hazards and dangerous objects or instruments.” Rules also require “adequate and continuous supervision,” but the room had no window.
Tammy Mims, the child’s guardian at the time, complained to the district last spring.
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“Upon investigation by the CRCSD, the district determined the complaint was founded on the basis that neither the seclusion nor the room in which it occurred complied with the state’s governing regulations,” Richard’s Tuesday complaint states.
The district stopped using the room for seclusion last spring.
Richard complains the district did not meet federal reporting requirements and data reported to KCRG-TV9 News had discrepancies.
She wants the state to review all the Individualized Education Programs (IEP) of Cedar Rapids students who were restrained to determine if seclusion was part of their plans and whether circumstances warranted seclusion. If the district is found to have violated state law, Richard asks the state to require Cedar Rapids to revise its polices, procedures and practices.
The Pierce Elementary incident last spring prompted the district to form a task force to study how staff restrains and secludes agitated students and increase training for staff. District Spokeswoman Akwi Nji told The Gazette earlier this month the district has done new de-escalation training with all teachers. The task force is expected to present its findings in February, Nji said.
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