Kids Put in Solitary Confinement in Schools & Parents Have No Idea

Say What!? 32

dunce cap punishment schoolMy father has stories about his days in Catholic grade school when the nuns would hit him with rulers or whatever was nearby if he acted anything less than an angel. It's that kind of stuff that you think would never happen today. But writer Bill Lichtenstein opened my eyes to one of my biggest fears happening in today's overcrowded public schools. It's not hitting or spanking (in this case) -- it's the use of restraints and seclusion rooms. Like solitary confinement. And it's considered acceptable.

Lichtenstein's daughter is just 5 years old, and for three months for up to an hour each time, she was kept in a seclusion room without her parents' knowledge. When they found out, it was stopped but not without lasting trauma for the little girl. The school, apparently, thought this was okay.

Schools are supposed to be educational, right? Not places of torture. Not even places where a 4-year-old child should be forced to undergo a double root canal without a parent's permission. Every day I learn more and more how these things DO happen. It's a harsh reminder that I can't always trust my kids are being taken care of properly when I'm not around. And it makes me want to homeschool.

Many of these students being restrained or put in rooms alone have special needs, and the Department of Education reports that of the almost 40,000 students who were placed in isolation or restrained during the 2009-2010 school year had learning, behavioral, physical, or development needs despite the fact that special needs kids make up 12 percent of the student body. Also unjustly punished in such a manner were African-American and Hispanic students.

Lichtenstein learned from Clemson University teacher and expert on this type of discipline Joseph Ryan that as more kids with special needs are place in inclusion classes in public schools, the practice of isolation and restraint came with it. When I read that Ryan said, "It’s a quick way to respond but it’s not effective in changing behaviors," my heart sank. Why is this allowed? Each state has a law on the books on how student can be disciplined (do you know yours? 19 states still allow spanking), but there are also no federal laws cracking down on things that shouldn't be done. I've read of a school nurse forcibly stripping and washing a child and an autistic 9-year-old stuffed in a duffel bag by his special ed teacher as punishment for not listening to the teacher's aide.

Children do not deserve these types of horrific treatment even if they are bad in school. There is nothing to learn from this punishment except fear. This is something no parent should have to face. But Lichtenstein faced it when his then-kindergartner Rose was locked in a closet five times in one morning, a practice that had happened for about three months before he found out. He wrote in the NYTimes:

At school, her mother and I found Rose standing alone on the cement floor of a basement mop closet, illuminated by a single light bulb. There was nothing in the closet for a child — no chair, no books, no crayons, nothing but our daughter standing naked in a pool of urine, looking frightened as she tried to cover herself with her hands. On the floor lay her favorite purple-striped Hanna Andersson outfit and panties.

The family tried to get the Lexington Public School system, the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families, and the Department of Mental Health to investigate but they didn't. Their daughter has severe stress and nightmares from the punishments, and after an action was brought against the school, a settlement was reached after they agreed to pay for Rose's trauma treatment.

It's been a few years since that and Rose is back in public school. She said of those who punished her: "They weren’t bad people. They just didn’t know about working with children."

I love Rose's outlook, but I'm filled with worry. Why do people who don't understand how to work with children become teachers, school nurses, public school administrators? How can we as parents make sure this isn't happening in our schools? What about the non-verbal kids with special needs? How can any parent trust a school after hearing about this?


Image via cogdogblog/Flickr

behavior, discipline, elementary school, in the news


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Badge83 Badge83

My brother and I both went to catholic school for a very short period of time. He was in kindergarten, and was yet to be diagnosed dyslexic. The teachers (fortunately no nuns) distanced him from other students, berated him, called him stupid and finally moved his desk to a corner and set easels around him. He was miserable every day, started pulling out his hair and picking at his skin due to severe distress and anxiety. I made it a point to eat lunch with him as often as allowed. I tried telling the principal but she brushed me off and instructed me not to tell lies; my parents couldn't get a straight answer from either principal or teacher. My parents were horrified when they arranged a surprise visit and saw for themselves. We were removed on the spot.

MomaL... MomaLlama

Kind of off topic, but at my high school we had an "inschool-suspension"  room called, "The Box"  Everyone called it, "The Box"  not just the students but the teachers as well.  For most of my freshman year I was convinced that it was an actual isolation box that they put you in if you were bad.  It wasn't until I had to deliver a note to the teacher who was supervising the box that I realized it was actually just a small, windowless classroom with about 6 student desks and a teachers desk.  Not a fun place to go if you acted up, but not nearly as bad as what I had always imagined. 

geeky... geekychick

My school had ISS (in school suspension) It was a room that was lined with phone box sized boths that had a 2 way glass mirror window on the door. I got in trouble for something and had to spend a week, 5 full days, in this booth we were give a packet each morning from our teachers of all class work and home work and left alone to complete it.  We were only allowed 3 bathroom breaks which they walked us to and from the restroom and we given lunch in them and 20 minutes to eat. It was horrible. When it came time to enroll my son in school I asked if they still did this and they said no the new principal had all the booths removed and changed the room in to more of a class room style and with someone in there to watch the kids and help them with their class work.

MomLi... MomLily67

My mom was a teacher,and she says that today, many people just "work" as teachers, but they do not do it as a vocation, sort of a special calling, as those who go into priesthood or become nuns. For many, it;s just a job.

MomLi... MomLily67

No kid should be submitted to this kind of treatment. Real teacher identifies the childs inability and informs the parents immediately, and works with them to help the child once the problem is determined. The most punishment I ever got at school was detention during school hours and doing extra homework. When kids acted up, sometimes they had to help clean the school patios, and sit in the principals office.

Bulle... Bullet_Proof_Me

Some students are placed in isolation because they present a threat to other students. They have an aide, but are not permitted to interact with other students for everyone's safety. My mother is a school counselor and has three students - brothers - in high school that are not potty trained, cannot speak, cannot walk, cannot feed themselves and violently attack anyone who gets too close. She forgot once and one boy clawed her arm until she was bloody. He had his own feces under his fingernails and she was at risk for infection and disease. These boys gain nothing from being at school and they cost the state thousands upon thousands of dollars. While I'm all for inclusion for functioning special needs students, these children cannot function and should not be in our public schools.

jessi... jessicasmom1

a dunce hat you got to be kidding me if this is not being bullied I don't know what else is! 

Tracy Shannon


The HS where I work has a SAVE room. I do not remember what the acronym stands for anymore. It is an in school 'suspension' type setting where a teacher can have a student placed for 3-5 days during their class time only. This is ONLY after numerous calls home, counselor meetings, etc. It is in place to avoid a real suspension which would mar bith the student's and the school's record. This is not the same as a broom closet for sure.  I suspect more poor choices being made with special needs students as they are being placed in Mainstreamed classes with the teachers receiving no training and little support. I took one special ed class in college many years ago. Useless now that I have inclusion students with no para or co-teacher. I suspect I was given these students due to me "experience" and expertise and my willingness to learn how to best include all students in the learning process of my classes.

Rachel Humphrey

Not that I think it's ok do put them in a room alone for that long I do believe seperation is a good idea for some children. These days parents have limited the things the teachers can do but at the same time expect education when they get these kids from home who have never been told "No"  WTH do parents think the teachers are going to be able to do. They get these crazy kids who don't know how to sit down and listen AND are not allowe to touch them or punish them but are suppose to teach them and other children in the same room. Parents get a clue teach your children respect and the teachers won't HAVE to do this..

Rachel Humphrey

I helped out in a Kindergaden class once the teacher had a student she couldn't make do anything. She wasn't allowed to seperate her, she wasn't allowed to swat her, she wasn't allowed to raise her voice at her. The teacher couldn't do anything. But this unrully child would run around the classroom and disrupt everyone the entire day. They called the parents and the parents would come and try to help but what could they do you can't call the parents EVERY day.

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