Staff Editorial

Seclusion rules bring needed limits and clarity

A 2016 file photo of a seclusion room, which can be used to defuse disruptive or dangerous behavior from special education students, in an eastern Iowa school district. The district has since dismantled all such rooms. (Gazette Archives)
A 2016 file photo of a seclusion room, which can be used to defuse disruptive or dangerous behavior from special education students, in an eastern Iowa school district. The district has since dismantled all such rooms. (Gazette Archives)

Proposed rules in Iowa governing seclusion rooms would bring much needed clarity and welcome, reasonable limits on their use by Iowa school districts.

The rules appropriately limit the use of seclusion as a “last resort” measure when all else fails and there is an “imminent threat of serious physical injury” or “serious damage to property.” The proposed rules set the size of permanent seclusion rooms, require staff to get permission from an administrator for every 30 minutes of seclusion or restraint and mandate alerting parents. A debriefing with parents and staff must be held within five days of the incident.

The rules, developed by a work group of educators, parents, advocates and school officials, are the sort of straightforward regulations school districts clearly need. The inclusion of parental involvement, in particular, is an important change.

The rules will be discussed at a public hearing on March 5 at 9 a.m. in the Grimes State Office Building in Des Moines.

A Gazette investigation in 2016 found that though the Iowa City and Cedar Rapids school districts used seclusion rooms generally to protect agitated students from harming themselves or others, there also were incidents where students were secluded for non-violent behaviors. A state investigation confirmed much of that reporting.

In 2017, The Gazette reported on a 9-year-old student at Pierce Elementary in Cedar Rapids held in a seclusion room because she couldn’t stop crying. The American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa petitioned the state to make rule changes reining in the overly broad use of seclusion, and its disproportionate use among black and disabled students.

The resulting rules are a significant change for the better, and we’d urge their final adoption. That would be a welcome development, to be sure, but not the end of the story. School officials must make sure educators and staff understand the rules and comply. Parents and advocates must remain vigilant to make sure districts follow the rules.

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Without those steps, the misuse of seclusion and restraint will continue. That possibility would be unacceptable to Iowans who care about children and our public schools.

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

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