When it comes to law enforcement in schools, many say that if you treat children like criminals, they will inevitably start acting like criminals. This notion is usually expressed when folks are talking about armed cops and metal detectors in our nation’s schools. However, schools in Iowa have added a new element to the conversation: “seclusion rooms” (also called quiet rooms, safe rooms and timeout rooms). These are “a small, enclosed, empty space for staff to send angry or upset students in danger of harming themselves or others,” according to The Gazette. To anyone who is even remotely familiar with prison-life, these rooms appear to be the kids’ version of solitary confinement or “The Hole.”
These seclusion rooms can be found in more than 20 schools in Eastern Iowa school districts. They are six foot by six foot plywood enclosures with padded walls and doors, with windows so that staff can observe the apprehended student. The districts must adhere to state-imposed rules on restraints and physical confinement:
Chapter 103 requires seclusion rooms be of “reasonable dimensions,” have adequate light and ventilation and be a comfortable temperature. Rooms may lock, but that lock either must engage only when a staff member is holding it or must automatically release when there is an emergency, like a fire alarm or a power outage.
According to state guidelines, the students’ sentence in confinement must be “reasonable, considering the age, size and physical and mental condition of the student.” Staff needs permission to extend the child’s sentence longer than an hour and no children can be kept in seclusion after school. Staff must contact parents if their kid has been put in seclusion and send them a written report on how their child got there.
The Gazette further reports that these seclusion rooms are most often used in case a child is a harm to himself/herself or others. While most kids find their way into The Hole for being violent, others also find their ways their for nonviolent offenses like “refusing to trace in pencil, stepping out of line at recess and pouting.” As you may have guessed, children experiencing mental illnesses, developmental disabilities or trauma are the most affected. Surprisingly, the seclusion rooms are most commonly used in elementary and middle schools and rarely in high school.
There’s more, but you get the picture. If a kid acts up, he/she is made an example of in his/her classroom. They are marched to The Hole in front of their classmates and as they sit inside, they have to listen to their class go on without them. They aren’t learning. They’re probably embarrassed and just getting angrier. If you’re dealing with kids with mental illness or what have you, just letting them sit in isolation and simmer seems to be adding fuel to the fire. It appears to be another way to make children more disenchanted with school and lash out against authority. Throwing a kid into a box in front of his/her peers doesn’t seem to be getting to the root of whatever that particular child’s problem is. It also plants an image in the other children’s minds that the secluded children are the dregs of their classroom and separate from them, especially if they just get thrown in there over and over. It can also be an unnecessary distraction to the well-behaved, curious children preoccupied with what the secluded child is doing in the mysterious hot box.
It seems to me that if these children are going to be isolated from their class, doing so in-class is cruel and unusual punishment. For example, how could you tell a kid with ADHD (emphasis on the “H” for “hyperactivity”) to sit still in a stagnant, dreary box for an extended period of time? That’s torturous. Instead of throwing them in a plywood box, maybe sending them to the school’s counselor or psychiatric professional would be a better fix. Maybe sending them to a tranquil place where they can calm their nerves would be more effective. Throwing them in kiddie solitary just seems like another stupid way for adults to flex their muscles on troubled children, instead of a means to ensure the psychological/behavioral welfare of the child. These seclusion rooms gotta go. Hopefully they die in Iowa and no other school districts get any bright ideas.