[Pnews] For Vulnerable Children, the School Day Can Include Solitary Confinement

Prisoner News ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Thu Jan 30 15:29:02 EST 2020


Solitary Watch Guest Author posted: "Guest Post by Dan Moshenberg Dan 
Moshenberg teaches in the Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies Program 
at the George Washington University, where he researches women’s 
incarceration and confinement and women’s domestic labor. He also 
directs Women in an"

    New post on *Solitary Watch*



    For Vulnerable Children, the School Day Can Include
    Solitary Confinement

by Solitary Watch Guest Author <https://solitarywatch.org/?author=14>

      *Guest Post by Dan Moshenberg*

/Dan Moshenberg teaches in the Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies 
Program at the George Washington University, where he researches women’s 
incarceration and confinement and women’s domestic labor. He also 
directs Women in and Beyond the Global <http://www.womeninandbeyond.org>./

Earlier this month, 11-year-old Ryphath Knopp stood before a committee 
the Missouri state legislature and described being put into solitary 
confinement in the Columbia, Missouri, school system. Knopp, who told 
the legislators he lives with autism, anxiety, and depression, said he 
was placed in a small padded room, a so-called seclusion room, “almost 
all day, every day” until his parents took him out of school and 
homeschooled him. In his testimony, Knopp called these isolation rooms 
“an adapted version of solitary confinement, which was a form of 
torture, may I remind you.”

Mothers of other children in the Columbia school district recounted 
similar experiences. Shawan Daniels described the room 
fourth-grade child was locked into: “These rooms didn’t have vents in 
them, water, or anything.” Another mother said the isolation 
had caused her son emotional trauma, asthma attacks, and head 
injuries. Both used the same phrase to describe Columbia schools’ 
treatment of their children: being "thrown into a box." “It’s just not 
humane to trap children up,” Knopp told the Columbia School Board 
September. “It is just simply not safe.” Currently, Missouri has no 
rules and no oversight over the use of restraint or seclusion in its 

Seclusion rooms are used to hold children in solitary confinement in 
schools and health institutions in the United States, Canada, Australia, 
the United Kingdom, and around the world. From 2004 to 2018, scandals 
over use of the rooms erupted inFlorida 
<http://www.womeninandbeyond.org/?p=22214>,and New Hampshire 

Around the country, prison reformers have zeroed in on solitary 
confinement of children in youth detention facilities and adult prisons, 
with states and the federal government passing legislation or 
regulations to ban or limit the practice. These actions have been based 
on the understanding that isolation and deprivation are particularly 
devastating for young minds. But the parallel use of solitary in schools 
remains routine and under regulated.

Just as in jails and prisons, schools use concerns over security and 
safety to justify the use of isolation. Although the rooms are never 
officially used as a punishment, they have become a routine form of 
exactly that. And as with solitary confinement in jails and prisons, 
exposés in Illinois 
New Mexico 
<https://www.searchlightnm.org/restraint-seclusion-deception>, New 
and other states show that the children most likely to be thrown in the 
box are children with disabilities and children of color.

Pro Publica obtained photos of school seclusion rooms in Illinois 
through FOIA requests. Above, Jonesboro Elementary School.

Pro Publica obtained photos of school seclusion rooms in Illinois 
through FOIA requests. Above, Jonesboro Elementary School.

Seclusion is vaguely defined by the U.S. Department of Education’s 
Office of Civil Rights as “involuntarily confining a student alone in a 
room or area from which he or she cannot physically leave.” There are no 
federal regulations concerning the design or use of seclusion rooms. 
Some facilities use janitorial closets; others use booths or padded, 
windowless cells. Seclusion rooms are often referred to as “time out 
spaces” or “last resort.” But to the children sent there, the 
rooms often feel like prisons.

In 2004, 13-year-old Jonathan King was confined to a windowless, 8’ x 8’ 
concrete block room 19 times over a 29-day period 
the Alpine Program, a Georgia school for students with behavioral 
problems. During these stints in the “time-out” room, he spent an 
average of 95 minutes alone with no furniture, food, water, or bathroom 
access. On November 15, 2004, King hanged himself in the isolation room.

King’s parents sued the school system, but Georgia courts dismissed the 
suit in 2009, stating there was no proof of deliberate negligence. The 
U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear the case 
2010. That same year, the Georgia State Board of Education announced 
that it was banning seclusion rooms 
But despite this supposed ban, seclusion of students continued in 
Georgia, particularly in psychoeducational schools like the Alpine 
Program that King attended.

The Alpine Program was part of the Georgia Network for Educational and 
Therapeutic Support, (GNETS), a separate but unequal school system 
<http://www.womeninandbeyond.org/?p=19074>established in 1970 and 
justified as a cost-saving measure. In 2016, the /Atlanta Journal 
Constitution/reported in a three-part investigative series that a 
disproportionate number <http://specials.myajc.com/psychoeducation/>of 
African American children were sent to GNETS, that GNETS was conducting 
unauthorized and unethical “experiments” 
<http://specials.myajc.com/psychoedexperiment/>on children in its care, 
and that the facilities continued to use seclusion rooms, despite the 
state-wide 2010 ban. Only the name had changed: “seclusion rooms” were 
now called <http://specials.myajc.com/psychoedrestraint/>“Zen rooms,” 
“be-quiet rooms,” “calm-down rooms,” or “opportunity rooms.” The rooms 
were technically unlocked, but staff members stood guard to refuse 
egress. The words changed;the trauma remained the same 

Recent reporting on seclusion rooms has incited concern and outrage. The 
day after Ryphath Knopp and others testified in Missouri, 12 federal 
legislators (all but one from Illinois, where a recent investigation 
<http://illinois>uncovered routine use of the rooms) asked the 
Department of Education 
ban seclusion rooms and issue guidance concerning the appropriate use of 
restraint. “We are gravely concerned by harmful student seclusion and 
restraint practices occurring in schools around our country,” the 
legislators wrote in a letter, noting that tens of millions of children 
are at risk. “The use of seclusion and dangerous restraints is putting 
the psychological well-being and lives of children at risk every day and 
must be addressed at the federal level immediately.”

But many education officials seemingly see seclusion rooms as necessary, 
routine, and unconcerning. In 2009, a school district outside Milwaukee 
applied to use Federal stimulus funds 
<http://www.jsonline.com/news/education/79775112.html>to build seclusion 
rooms in elementary and middle schools. The Wisconsin Department of 
Public Instruction rejected the application 
<http://www.jsonline.com/news/education/81049867.html>, instructing all 
state school districts that stimulus funds and special education funds 
could not be used for this purpose.

In May of this year, Disability Rights Maine released a report 
<https://drme.org/news/2019/press-release-051319>finding that restraint 
and seclusion were used 20,000 times in Maine schools in 2018—/once 
every five minutes/that school was in session. This marked a significant 
rise from 12,000 incidents in 2014. The majority of seclusions occurred 
in “special purpose private schools for children with disabilities.”

“Restraint and seclusion are dangerous and ineffective practices,” the 
report concluded. “They are supposed to be reserved for emergency 
situations, but as the data shows, they are being used at alarming rates 
and it continues to rise every year.” Following the release of the 
report, parents provided heartrending testimony on the trauma their 
children had experienced. “She was a different kid when she came back,” 
Jennifer Johnson testified 
the Maine legislature. “It was months before she genuinely smiled or 
laughed again. And this happened in Maine, to my daughter, to my girl. 
And it’s not OK.” There has been no new legislation or rule changes in 
Maine since the release of the report.

In June, the U.S. Government Accounting Office released data 
<https://www.gao.gov/assets/700/699795.pdf>on restraint and seclusion in 
the 2015 to 2016 academic year. Of the 17 largest school systems in the 
country, 13 districts (which include a total of 186,159,232 students) 
reported zero incidents of seclusion. And according to National Public 
Radio, 19 states 
currently prohibit placing children alone in locked rooms.

Ward School, Duquoin, Illinois.

Ward School, Duquoin, Illinois.

But seclusion rooms are notorious for being inaccurately and 
incompletely tracked. Soon after the GAO report was released, it became 
clear that one of those 13 districts, Fairfax Public Schools—a highly 
rated public school system in northern Virginia—failed to report 
routine use of seclusion. In October, parents and disability activists 
filed a lawsuit against the county 
claiming the school system uses seclusion 
“silence, detain, segregate, and punish students with disabilities.”

In recent months, a groundswell of activity by journalists and advocates 
has uncovered and challenged the use of seclusion rooms in schools 
throughout the nation.

Last fall, a Columbia, Missouri group called “Race Matters, Friends” 
published photographs of seclusion rooms 
the school district, sparking public discussion, and leading the Board 
of Education to reconsider the use of the rooms. At the end of 2019, 
bipartisan legislation 
was introduced to track and limit the use of isolation in Missouri's 

In October, an exposé by the /La Cruces Sun News /revealed that contrary 
to public statements, Albuquerque Public Schools sends kids to tiny, 
unventilated rooms 
a daily basis. Attorneys who had seen the rooms recalled walls smeared 
with blood and mucus. The school system refused to provide parents with 
information on the seclusion of their own children, and told courts and 
legislatures that “collecting data on restraint and seclusion would be 
too labor-intensive.”

That same month, California’s Pasadena Unified public schools reached a 
a 2016 complaint concerning the school system’s disciplinary use of 
padded seclusion rooms, known as “boring rooms.” In Fargo, North Dakota, 
federal authorities launched an investigation 
the district’s unrestrained, uninhibited, unreported use of seclusion. 
And in November, Iowa’s State Board of Education worked to ensure that a 
new policy would still allow schools to use seclusion rooms, which can 
currently be used for almost any reason and are often padded, 
6-by-6-foot wooden boxes 

In November, ProPublica Illinois and the /Chicago Tribune/ published the 
results of a year-long investigation 
found thousands of Illinois students had been held in seclusion rooms 
called “quiet rooms.” Despite assertions that quiet rooms were used only 
as a last resort to preserve safety, the investigation revealed that 
students were often held for minor infractions including refusing to do 
classwork, swearing, spilling milk, and throwing Legos.

The journalists found more than 20,000 incidents of seclusion from the 
beginning of the 2017-2018 school year through December 2018. There were 
no recorded safety concerns in one-third of the 12,000 incidents that 
included enough detail to determine the cause of the seclusion. In 
response to the reports, the Illinois State Board of Education issued an 
emergency ban on the use of seclusion rooms, and legislators began 
designing bills to regulate and restrict their use. In December, 
however, after pushback from schools, the State Board of Education 
amended the ban to give schools “time to transition.”

In 2019, the /Washington City Paper/ published an exposé 
on the use of seclusion rooms in the District of Columbia, after parents 
at one charter school for children with disabilities raised the alarm. 
Data showed that in the 2015-16 school year, 60 percent of children 
placed in restraint and seclusion in the District had disabilities, and 
every single one was a child of color—94 percent African American, and 
the rest Latinx, Native American, and mixed race.

Advocates may be heartened as lawsuits, investigations, and the hard 
work of parents and advocates force school districts around the country 
to grapple with their use of seclusion rooms. And bans on the rooms are 
possible: New Zealand banned them 
<http://www.womeninandbeyond.org/?p=21931>in 2017. And there are 
alternatives: In Columbia, Missouri—the same school system where Ryphath 
Knopp was put in the box almost every day—Sara Rivera praised her son’s 
school’s use of a doorless “calm-down room” 
comfortable furniture and a soothing atmosphere, where children are 
always in the presence of a teacher.

But in the meantime, thousands of children—especially children with 
disabilities and children of color—continue to face the torture that led 
Jonathan King to take his life at 13, and that is harming countless 
others in ways that are impossible to measure.

*Solitary Watch Guest Author <https://solitarywatch.org/?author=14>* | 
January 30, 2020

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