Staff Editorial

End the use of seclusion rooms in Iowa schools

The seclusion room at Arthur Elementary has padded walls, a window in the door and a door that is unlockable from outside. Photographed in Cedar Rapids on Wednesday, Aug. 21, 2019. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
The seclusion room at Arthur Elementary has padded walls, a window in the door and a door that is unlockable from outside. Photographed in Cedar Rapids on Wednesday, Aug. 21, 2019. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)

Seclusion rooms are an ill-conceived and disturbing tool welded unevenly against Iowa’s most vulnerable children.

In 2016, The Gazette’s Erin Jordan found that seclusion rooms in schools were used to punish children for not tracing in pencil and for stepping outside of the lines. A ProPublica investigation into seclusion rooms in Illinois, published last week, revealed the same. “The students, most of them with disabilities, scratch the windows or tear at the padded walls. They throw their bodies against locked doors. They wet their pants. Some children spend hours inside these rooms, missing class time. Through it all, adults stay outside the door, writing down what happens.”

This week, in response to a 2019 ProPublica investigation, Gov. J.B. Pritzker o<URL destination="https://www.propublica.org/article/illinois-school-students-seclusion-rooms-state-emergency-action-pritzker-carroll">rdered Illinois schools to immediately stop secluding children.

</URL>Iowa still hasn’t banned the cruel and ineffective practice. In August, the Iowa State Board of Education voted against filing a recommendation to adopt stricter rules for the use of physical restraints and seclusion rooms. The argument was that schools needed more flexibility and independence in implementing their safety and discipline policies. And while schools and teachers do need better options and resources and training for managing classrooms and challenging behavior, they should not come at the cost of the health and welfare of the children.

This month, the State Board of Education proposed new rules on student seclusion, which would face final consideration next year. The rule revision qualifies that seclusion may be used only to prevent “serious physical bodily injury” and gives schools up to an hour to alert parents if their child is put in seclusion or restraint.

And while the rule restrictions are a good check on the seclusion rooms, they do not go far enough. As the ProPublica and The Gazette’s reporting show, seclusion rooms are often used without proper adherence to the rules outlined for them

In August, this editorial board advocated ending the practice of seclusion rooms. We called it a “human rights issue.” Noting, “Bodily confinement of any person should be a last resort to prevent serious harm. That is especially true for children, who may suffer severe mental and emotional effects from physical discipline.”

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And in light of the proposed new rules, we ask again for our state to ban this cruel and inhumane practice. And we will keep asking until it happens.

Currently, the state is in a public hearing phase for the new rules. Written or oral comments must be received by the Education Department by 4:30 p.m. Jan. 7. Comments can go to Nicole Proesch at nicole.proesch@iowa.gov or (515) 281-8661. A public hearing will be held from 11 a.m. to noon Jan. 7 at the Grimes State Office Building in Des Moines.

We encourage everyone in the state to let the Iowa Department of Education know that our children deserve better

Comments: (319) 398-8262; editorial@thegazette.com

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