Call it what you will…

I know of a little boy who was constantly put in a cardboard box that the teacher took the time to paint black on the inside. She even put a chair and a desk so he’d be comfortable. He wasn’t comfortable; he  was traumatized. He also had learning and emotional disabilities. He was five years old.

A friend and fellow blogger over at Hijabi Footballer sent me this video.

“The isolation box is not a far cry from solitary confinement that is used in jails as a punishment for dangerous prisoners. Although the children are placed inside the box for a limited time, the psychological effect is far more likely to be damaging than “therapeutic,” as the school claims.” 

Quoted from Elementary School Places Unruly Kids in Solitary Confinement.

Across the country, it’s known by many names:

Isolation room. The box. The naughty room. Isolation booth. Therapeutic chamber. The scream room. Mop closet. Seclusion room.

Call it what you will, but what it does is it serves to instill fear in children. The one shown in the video is at an elementary school. And I couldn’t agree more with the mother unless you have the skills and understanding AND research to back it up:

“If you feel like you have to lock a child up, they shouldn’t be in public school,” Ana Bate told KATU. “I don’t think it gets any clearer than that.”

While teaching at a center known specifically to cater to students with learning and emotional disabilities, we didn’t have one. We had policies and procedures in place should a student get violent. We had a team of social workers, psychologists, trained teachers, and caring individuals to provide the necessary interventions. We had a security team if the situation became dangerous. But we did not have solitary – ahem – ‘therapeutic chambers’. And this was at the secondary level where most of my students were larger than me.

Earlier this school year, I came across the story of a five year old girl who was also put in solitary for misbehaviour. I was shocked when I read this story. Now I am beyond outraged. I am a special education teacher and this shocked me. However, I shouldn’t be because it is more commonplace than I imagined.

According to national Department of Education data, most of the nearly 40,000 students who were restrained or isolated in seclusion rooms during the 2009-10 school year had learning, behavioral, physical or developmental needs, even though students with those issues represented just 12 percent of the student population. African-American and Hispanic students were also disproportionately isolated or restrained.

While no longer surprising, this is painful. And disgusting.

Joseph Ryan, an expert on the use of restraints who teaches at Clemson University, told me that the practice of isolating and restraining problematic children originated in schools for children with special needs. It migrated to public schools in the 1970s as federal laws mainstreamed special education students, but without the necessary oversight or staff training. “It’s a quick way to respond but it’s not effective in changing behaviors,” he said.

State laws on disciplining students vary widely, and there are no federal laws restricting these practices, although earlier this year Education Secretary Arne Duncan wrote, in a federal guide for schools, that there was “no evidence that using restraint or seclusion is effective.” He recommended evidence-based behavioral interventions and de-escalation techniques instead.

The use of restraints and seclusion has become far more routine than it should be. “They’re the last resort too often being used as the first resort,” said Jessica Butler, a lawyer in Washington who has written about seclusion in public schools.

So the research does not back it up. Then why are schools still using it? I don’t know.

What I do know is that if we do not have the skills and the training and the research to back up our practices in the schools and in the classrooms then we better get that training or get out. Being a teacher is not for you.

~ by Omaira on November 30, 2012.

2 Responses to “Call it what you will…”

  1. I don’t know, I have never read anywhere that isolation helps children grow, develop, learn better in any way, nor does it change their behaviours, so I see I wonder for whose benefit these types of rooms are?

    • Thank you for your comment Asifa. From what I’ve read the only one who seems to benefit is the teacher because he/she has a way to get rid of the ‘disruptive’ student so others can learn. It seems in many cases that’s teh justification. There needs to be more training of teachers and administrators in general education settings if there are children with special needs.

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