posted in Mom Stories
Six years ago, journalist Bill Lichtenstein discovered his five-year-old daughter was being put in a seclusion room at her school, as a disciplinary measure, for up to an hour at a time.
The punishment apparently occurred daily, for months, before Lichtenstein and his wife found out.
They realized what had been happening when they were called by the school and told their daughter had taken all her clothes off. They arrived to discover she had taken her clothes off to relieve herself, in the mop closet where she had been isolated. Their daughter, Rose, had speech and language delays.
“We were told that Rose had been in the closet almost daily for three months, for up to an hour at a time. At first, it was for behavior issues, but later for not following directions. Once in the closet, Rose would pound on the door, or scream for help, staff members said, and once her hand was slammed in the doorjamb while being locked inside.”
This happened at a public school in Lexington, Massachusetts. After pulling the girl out of the school and then pressing charges, the school agreed to pay for the girl’s therapy.
This father then did some research and learned that seclusion and physical restraint is more common than we know in public schools. According to Lichtenstein, Department of Education data apparently revealed that 40,000 students were restrained or isolated between 2009 and 2010. It also showed that the majority of those students subjected to this method of discipline had some sort of developmental, behavioral, or learning disorder.
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.
These disciplinary practices are not new. They have long since been used to maintain order in psychiatric facilities. They’ve also been discovered to be largely ineffective and potentially damaging.
According to this video testimony, Greg Kutz, a managing director of forensic audits and special investigations for the Government Accountability Office, there are no federal laws restricting the use of seclusion and restraint in public and private schools. Laws very widely from state to state.
In California and Texas alone, again according to Kutz, there is no national data available, but it was reported that there were 33,000 instances of restraint, isolation, or other interventions during the 2008 school year. At least 20 cases of abusive use of restraint resulted in death.”
While I realize the abuse of disciplinary methods by school staff is generally limited to isolated incidents, the thought of teachers using such seemingly barbaric, potentially traumatizing and outdated methods on students is sickening to me.
I had a grade school teacher who emotionally abused a difficult student. Her desk was called her “hole” and she was often ordered to “get in her hole” as if she were a wild animal. While she was never physically harmed, it was horribly disturbing to all of us in that class.
What are your thoughts about schools and discipline?
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