In November, I posted on social media a Chicago Tribune expose on a shocking practice in Illnois schools to use so-called “quiet rooms” to place schoolchildren in isolation for reasons such as “refusing to do classwork, for swearing, for spilling milk, for throwing Legos.” A Bangor resident reached out to me saying such a padded isolation room exists at Five Points Elementary School in local Bangor Area School District (BASD). I immediately filed a Right to Know Law request (RTKL), and this week I received the BASD response.
Let me add I spent 13 years in public schools and never heard of such a practice. Let me add that in this article I will endeavor to – mostly – just share the facts I found rather than post my opinion on the practices, but it is my hope that this will result in local curiosity and awareness that this is happening in our local schools.
It appears to me the viewpoint of BASD employees is they believe seclusion is an acceptable action to inflict on children to prevent self-harm and harm to other students, especially or exclusively on students with disabilities. I do thank Superintendent William Hawes of BASD for his cooperation in providing the documents.
If you are curious to find if your school district uses such a room, you can contact me and I briefly can help you with the RTKL process.
A map document from BASD confirm that a “de-escalation room” exists at Five Points Elementary School and possibly three more BASD schools like the Washington Elementary, Bangor Area Middle School and the Senior High per the invoices. See page 1 here for a school map. Pages 2 through 8 are invoice documents summarized below.
- $12,328 paid to Giant Floor for “supply and installation of Gerflow Teraflex Sport M Plus… for Senior High School Special Ed Classroom” on August 17, 2017
- $4,703 paid to Resilite for installation and black matting and wainscoting material “for BAMS De-Escalation Room” on September 3, 2015
- $4,864.15 paid to Resilite for installation and kelly green matting and wainscoting material “for Washington Room 222” on July 13, 2016
Next is a log of 3 incidents filed with the PA Dept. of Education’s Bureau of Special Education summarized below.
- On 9/23/2019, “seated restraint” was used for 9 minutes for a student “refusing direction” and “kicking and punching staff, head banging and biting self.” (page 1)
- On 9/24/2019, “seated restraint” was used for 6 minutes for a student “kicking and punching staff, throwing items, cursing, eloping.” (page 2)
- On 10/1/2019, “seated restraint” was used for 13 minutes for a student “defacing and breaking property, punching and headbutting computer keyboards, headbanging on hard surfaces, kicking walls, punching/kicking/stomping on staff.” (page 3)
BASD also included a policy as responsive to the RTKL request, available here in full. The policy reads in part (emphasis mine):
The Board directs that the district’s behavior support programs shall be based on positive rather than negative behavior techniques to ensure that students shall be free from demeaning treatment and unreasonable use of restraints or other aversive techniques. The use of restraints shall be considered a measure of last resort and shall only be used after other less restrictive measures, including de-escalation techniques. Behavior support programs and plans shall be based on a functional assessment of behavior and shall include a variety of research-based techniques to develop and maintain skills that will enhance students’ opportunity for learning and self-fulfillment.
The policy defines ‘restraints’ as below:
Restraints – application of physical force, with or without the use of any device, designed to1. Briefly holding a student, without force, to calm or comfort him/her.
restrain free movement of a student’s body, excluding the following:
2. Guiding a student to an appropriate activity.
3. Holding a student’s hand to escort him/her safely from one area to another.
4. Hand-over-hand assistance with feeding or task completion.
5. Techniques prescribed by a qualified medical professional for reasons of safety or for therapeutic or medical treatment, as agreed to by the student’s parents/guardians and specified in the IEP.
6. Mechanical restraints governed by this policy, such as devices used for physical or occupational therapy, seatbelts in wheelchairs or on toilets used for balance and safety, safety harnesses in buses, and functional positioning devices.
On “physical restraints,” the policy also reads “restraints to control acute or episodic aggressive behavior may be used only when the student is acting in a manner that presents a clear and present danger to the student, other students or employees, and only when less restrictive measures and techniques have proven to be or are less effective.”
Seclusion is defined as “confinement of a student in a room, with or without staff supervision, in order to provide a safe environment to allow the student to regain self-control.”
Students with disabilities is defined as “school-aged children within the jurisdiction of the district who have been evaluated and found to have one or more disabilities as defined by law, and who require, because of such disabilities, special education and related services.”
The policy does state “the district prohibits the seclusion of students in locked rooms, locked boxes and other structures or spaces from which the student cannot readily exit.” I note it appears unlocked rooms and unlocked boxes are not prohibited.
The policy also states “the following aversive techniques of handling behavior are considered inappropriate and shall not be used in educational programs:
- Corporal punishment.
- Punishment for a manifestation of a student’s disability.
- Locked rooms, locked boxes, other locked structures or spaces from which the student cannot readily exit.
- Noxious substances.
- Deprivation of basic human rights, such as withholding meals, water or fresh air.
- Suspensions constituting a pattern as defined in state regulations.
- Treatment of a demeaning nature.
- Electric shock.
- Methods implemented by untrained personnel.
- Prone restraints, which are restraints by which a student is held face down on the floor.”
I’ll leave it to the reader to surmise why electric shock on schoolchildren and withholding meals and water, etc. from children must be expressly prohibited in this day and age, but I suppose I should be glad of it.