Iowa Schools Are Putting Kids in Locked Boxes for Time-Out

kid in time out
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Disciplining children in school is tough. Educators have to balance the unique needs of the individual child while keeping in mind that there are other students in the classroom who are trying to learn. There's no easy solution, but we know that Iowa's method of locking children in dark, padded "seclusion boxes" is most definitely not the answer. 

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Iowa, along with Arkansas, Illinois, Montana, and New York, allow teachers the option to seclude students as punishment even when the children pose no threat of physical danger to themselves or other people. In order to carry out these punishments, some Iowa schools have seclusion rooms. In some schools they're repurposed storage spaces. In others they're roughly six feet by six feet padded pine boxes that look like something you'd find in a episode of American Horror Story, not an elementary school. Pretty sure Harry Potter's cupboard under the stairs was roomier than this.

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What's worse is that while school officials are required to try to notify parents the same day if their child is put into the box, teachers don't need a parent's permission in order to use this punishment. 


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The Iowa Department of Education looked into the Iowa City School District's practice of using seclusion rooms after a complaint was filed earlier this year.

This isn't the case where teachers are afraid that big burly teenagers might take a swing and want them to cool off before they do something they'll regret. The investigators found that out of 455 situations where a seclusion room was used, most of the children being put in those rooms were in kindergarten through the third grade.

And while many of us still stick to the well-known guideline of one minute per year of age time-out at home, the average time a child spent locked in the room was between 20 and 29 minutes. If that doesn't make your heart ache, get ready for this -- 30 of the children were kept inside for over 50 minutes.


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In spite of their determination that the use of these rooms was in fact a violation of state law in some cases, the Department declined to ban the use of the seclusion rooms outright. Attorney and complaint officer Thomas Mayes ruled the vast majority of the schools weren't abusing their power in using the boxes as a disciplinary tool. Oh, and they decided to call them "seclusion boxes" instead of "time-out" boxes, so there's that. 

task force that was convened to look at the use of these seclusion rooms also agreed with the bananas idea that they have their uses, but said they should be used as a last resort and for only as long as strictly necessary.

"Seclusion should only be used in circumstances when less restrictive interventions have failed to de-escalate a students' behavior, or the students' behavior poses a direct threat to their own health or to the health of other students or staff. Moreover, seclusion should end as soon as the student's direct threat is over."

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School board approved or not, these boxes still look like something from a prison ward, not a school. A parent who locked a child in a closet for nearly an hour would likely be called a child abuser, but apparently in Iowa you can do that and still be eligible for teacher of the year.

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