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Seclusion and Special Education


CNN has an excellent article on its website about the use of seclusion rooms in schools; it's a must-read. It starts with an anecdote about a 13-year-old with behavior problems and ADHD who hanged himself after being put in a seclusion room. It also explores what is known--and not known--about the use of seclusion or "time out" rooms across the country.

Dr. Veronica Garcia, New Mexico's education secretary, said her state had found more sophisticated and better ways to solve behavior problems. Garcia, whose brother is autistic, said, "The idea of confining a child in a room repeatedly and as punishment, that's an ethics violation I would never tolerate."

But researchers say that the rooms, in some cases, are being misused and that children are suffering.

Public schools in the United States are now educating more than half a million more students with disabilities than they did a decade ago, according to the National Education Association.

"Teachers aren't trained to handle that," said Dr. Roger Pierangelo, executive director of the National Association of Special Education Teachers.

"When you have an out-of-control student threatening your class -- it's not right and it can be very damaging -- but seclusion is used as a 'quick fix' in many cases."

Former Rhode Island special education superintendent Leslie Ryan told CNN that she thought she was helping a disabled fifth-grader by keeping him in a "chill room" in the basement of a public elementary school that was later deemed a fire hazard.

"All I know is I tried to help this boy, and I had very few options," Ryan said. After the public learned of the room, she resigned from her post with the department but remains with the school.


It is a heart-breaking article, particularly as it points out how little is known about the use of seclusion, how frequently parents are not informed, and how little regulation or documentation exist. I was also struck by the number of people above the teacher level (principal, special education superintendent) endorsed the seclusion rooms as one of a very few options available, pled ignorance or supported the use.

I was also sickened by the refrain, always communicated by an attorney: "the school system denies any wrongdoing."


Go to your school board meetings! Ask the question and see if your BOE even knows if their district has them or not!

Special ed's 'best' kept secret! There's actually a wealth of information from the APA on how these episodes can lead to post-trauma in children. This is a human rights issue and the schools repeatedly use the "oh, it' for their own our others' safety." I continue to pull my hair out over this issue.

You know.. this really makes me mad! We have had 'chill rooms' as you call them, for years. In some cases, we have had to use restraint. What are we supposed to do as Teachers??? Any ideas?? Do we allow students to throw things at us, spit at us, hit us, kick us, pinch us, bite us, punch us, use an instrument to attack us? If it was in the community, we would have them arrested, would we not? And these things go on in a classroom with other students! And these things are also done to students in our classrooms! Is that okay for a student to bodily harm others? Come on people!! In my opinion, as a Teacher, I am to keep the student safe and the other students safe as well. AND... do you think that we don't have other strategies that we use BEFORE the escalation of the behaviors occur?? We are all taught to de-escalate the behaviors!!!! BUT sometimes with our best taught training.. our strategies still do not work and a child HAS to be taken to the 'chill room' for his/her benefit or the benefit of the other students. Without a 'chill room' where would the student go to talk his/her anger out? Once he/she is under control and able to express his feelings then he/she is able to return to the classroom. We do not use seclusion rooms, but have well-trained staff to handle such situations. Special Education is individualized education for a reason!

At some time teachers of kids with and without disabilities, particularly in NYS, will be thoroughly trained (not "staff developed" in a 3 hour lecture) in one research-validated program of behavior management and modification. What is claimed to be used in NYS, PBIS, is an approach, not a validated program. When and if this ever happens, we will not have comments like this from teachers.

It is also true that the federal 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals held in mid-2006 that the entire panoply of federal laws prohibiting abuse of persons with disabilities cover schools, including publicly-operated day schools. These laws simply prohibit - flat out - much of what this teacher describes.

At some point the speducation industry will be forced to admit that abuse is abuse, and a child physically or psychiatrically injured by abuse is no less injured because the abuse is done by a teacher in a school. Dead is dead. PTSD is PTSD. No matter where it is incurred.

I look forward both to that day and to the time when the US govt. more forthrightly speaks out about this appalling situation and gathers nerve to enforce these laws.

Change we need. Now. And from what I hear, coming soon to every schoolhouse near you.

Dee Alpert, Publisher
The SpecialEducationMuckraker.com

National Disability Rights Network Misrepresents The Issues of Restraint & Seclusion and Abuse & Neglect by Teachers and Schools


There are currently over 130,000 schools serving 50 million students in this country. In real numbers, no one really knows the extent of the threat in terms of school violence. In 2006 an audit of 17 high schools was conducted by former NYS Comptroller Alan G. Hevesi found that at least one third of violent incidents documented in school records were not reported. The Hevesi Report cited approximately 7,357 violent and disruptive incidents at 17 NY high schools in one year.

This means the American public is being significantly mislead as it is estimated that between one and four out of five school crimes go unreported. Therefore the assaults against teachers are underestimated between 20-80% and while assaults on teachers are high, assaults by one student against another student are higher and not adequately or accurately reflected in these statistics which are nonetheless disturbing.

See, Attacking our Educators, Stopping School Violence http://www.stoppingschoolviolence.com.


Between 1997 and 2001, there were approximately 1.3 million reports where teachers were victims to nonfatal crimes at school. This includes 473,000 violent crimes that were reported. On average, in each year from 1997-2001, about 21 out of every 1,000 teachers were victims of violent crime at school, and 3 out of every 1,000 were victims of serious violent crime (i.e., rape, sexual assault, robbery and aggravated assault. (These numbers are estimated to be under-reported 20-80%)

• Students between the ages of 12 and 18 were victims of about 764,000 violent crimes annually (These numbers are estimated to be under-reported 20-80%)

• 13% of 9th graders reported that they were threatened or injured with a weapon on school property.

• Street gangs were reported present on school premises by 29% of students living in urban areas, 18% of students living in suburban areas, and 13% of students living in rural areas.

• 6.1% of students nationwide have carried a weapon (e.g., a gun, knife, or club) on school property one or more times during the 30 days prior to the survey. During the 12 months preceding the survey, 9.2% of the students had been threatened or injured with such a weapon on school property one or more times.

• Each day, approximately 160,000 K-12 students don’t attend school because they are afraid.

• 46% of students said they were hit, kicked, shoved, or tripped at least once in the previous month, and 18 percent had experienced this five or more times.

• One in fourteen students carries a weapon to school one or more days each month.

• 10% of traditional (non-special education) teachers reported being threatened with injury during a 12 month period.

• Nearly one in 10 high school students reported being threatened or injured with a weapon on school property during the preceding 12 months.

• Over 88% of victimizations that occurred at school against 12-18 year olds were not reported to the police.

• Of the 3,657 expulsions from bringing a firearm to school almost half were students in high school, 28 % were middle school and 24% were elementary school.

Special Education

The data that exists puts the number of special education students around 14% of the total student population. This segment of students is the most rapidly growing segment and it is projected that special education students will soon represent 25% of the student population.

With respect to special education students and school violence, data shows that special education students committed threats at a significantly higher annual rate (33/1000 students) than regular education students (6.9/1000 students) and made more substantive threats (39.8%) than students in regular education (20%). Students classified as Emotionally Disturbed (ED) made the highest threat rates and the most serious threats. Students in special education who made threats also committed significantly more infractions involving violent acts. Research is showing that while special education students represent approximately 14% of the school population, they are the source of 38-43% of the violent incidents.


Again, there were 7,357 violent incidents at 17 high schools. There are over 37,000 high schools nationwide. Take the mean number of incidents at the 17 NY High Schools and multiply it by the number of high schools nationwide. The number of violent incidents that may actually be occurring at this nation’s high schools is staggering. And remember, this number does not include elementary or middle schools.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics for 2003-4 there were over 130,000 K-12 schools nationwide. Again, there were 7,357 violent incidents that took place in a one-year period at just 17 of these schools.

The 100 or so incidences of potentially abusive uses of seclusion and restraint documented in NDRN’s Report span over at least a decade long period and include non-school incidents. These cases were reported by 57 protection and advocacy network offices presumably located across the country. If you average the number of incidents included in the Report over the 10 year period over which they were reported, you are looking at 10-20 cases of potentially abusive uses of seclusion and restraint annually.

We now ask the public and Congress to compare this number to the actual number of violent incidents that may actually be occurring at this nation’s schools annually and multiply that number by the 10+ year period covered in NDRN’s Report.

It is only by putting the examples cited in NDRN's Report into context that the scope of the overall issue of school violence and the need for school safety can be measured.

NDRN's Report is not based on any scientific research, data initiative or statistical evidence. The Report is completely irresponsible as it is a blatant attempt by an advocacy group to influence legislation that affects the safety of millions of teachers, school resource officers, aides, administrators and 50 million students with nothing to support its position except a general feeling that children even when acting in a manner that is harmful to themselves or others should not be secluded or restrained.

It is unrealistic for advocates or Congress to expect that every incident can be managed with positive behavior intervention. Positive behavior support alone is not an appropriate intervention (see CMS restraint regulations public comment section) at the precise moment that a student is placing himself or herself at a real and substantial risk of injury to self or others.

For instance, if your child was about to cross a street into oncoming traffic, or place their hand on a hot stove, you would stop them. If your child was hurting themselves by scratching or head banging, you would stop them from continuing to hurt themselves.

- If you have your own child in an educational setting and another child physically attacks your child, regardless of motive, what would you think about a teacher or aide who decides to offer 'positive behavior support' instead of saving your child from getting beaten?

-In fact it is precisely because schools and other facilities are taking away the spectrum of tools that teachers and staff can use to therapeutically intervene, that more, not less, security and intervention is being called for. Administrators and teachers need to be given the spectrum of tools necessary to do their jobs in order to maintain a safe environment.

We now call on Congress to consider all sides of this issue.

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