116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
INDEPENDENCE — An Independence elementary school principal has been sanctioned by the state for violating Iowa’s law on school seclusion and restraint.
The mother who filed the complaint says her 6-year-old daughter was held in a seclusion room for 12 minutes — not for being violent as the law requires for this drastic measure — but for lying on the floor and refusing to follow directions.
“That room is for kids who are acting out violently or causing damage to property,” said Nicole Halligan, whose daughter, Sydney, was put in seclusion Jan. 18 at East Elementary School. “She is defiant, she is stubborn, but she isn’t violent. They were tired of dealing with Sydney.”
The final order between the Iowa Board of Educational Examiners and Kathryn “Kay” Reidy, signed Oct. 14 by Executive Director Michael Cavin, says Reidy has agreed to complete 15 in-person hours of “Ethics in Education” and complete a course on seclusion and restraint in education. If she fails to do either of these things in one year, Reidy’s professional license will be suspended, the order states.
“In determining the appropriate sanction to impose in this case, the Board has considered the nature and seriousness of the allegations as well as mitigating circumstances,” the order states.
Independence Superintendent Russ Reiter said in an email Tuesday that Reidy, an educator for 27 years, was “not directly involved in any recent instances of seclusion,” but as principal “takes responsibility for the actions of students and staff in her building.”
“Mrs. Reidy’s focus continues to be on her students and staff and she will continue to support those students and staff and be a resource for information on the documentation requirements of Chapter 103,” Reiter said.
In Iowa, educators may use seclusion or restraint only to prevent “an imminent threat of bodily injury,” to prevent serious property damage or when a student’s actions threaten to disrupt the learning environment, according to new rules enacted in January 2021.
When school officials restrain a student, they must alert parents within one hour or by the end of the school day, whichever comes first.
Halligan said neither of these rules were followed Jan. 18.
Sydney, who has a different last name from her mother, was refusing to follow directions in her kindergarten classroom at East, which has about 300 students in pre-K through second grade, Halligan said.
Video from the hallway of the school shows an administrator walking down to the classroom and bringing Sydney to the office, Halligan said. The girl is calm on the video, letting the staff member lead her by the wrist.
“When they got her in the office and told her to sit in a chair, she got down on the floor and was rolling around on the floor,” Halligan said. “It’s not like her rolling around the floor was going to hurt anybody.”
Reidy and another staff member decided to put Sydney into a seclusion room they called the “Quiet Room,” Halligan said. For a while, the door was open, but when Sydney started putting her feet on the door, staff held the door shut, Halligan said.
When Halligan heard about the incident later in the day from Sydney — not from the school — her daughter told her it was scary.
“’Mommy, they put me in the quiet room today and I was scared’,” Halligan said Sydney told her. “’There was a hole in the ceiling and I was afraid there were spiders in there’.”
When Halligan, who did not know East had a seclusion room, asked to see the space, she saw there was a ceiling tile missing, which she guessed was what Sydney meant by the hole in the ceiling.
The girl was in the room for 12 minutes before another administrator came and took her out, walking her back down the hall with her arm around her shoulders, Halligan said after reviewing the video.
“There were so many less-restrictive options they chose not to go with,” Halligan said.
Halligan became further frustrated with school staff for not acknowledging they’d used seclusion, saying Sydney had just been placed in time out. The mother asked to have Sydney moved to another classroom, but Reidy refused, Halligan said.
Halligan, through her attorney, Mary Richard, of Coralville, first filed a complaint with the Iowa Department of Education, which declined to investigate. Halligan filed a complaint with the Board of Educational Examiners in February. She found out about the sanctions against Reidy last week.
“It wasn’t enough, but I was happy something came of it,” Halligan said.
Halligan has since moved to Georgia with her family, saying they chose a state that does not use school seclusion. “It’s been a completely different situation from last year,” Halligan said. “This year, she (Sydney) has never even been to the guidance counselor. She has friends.”
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