In Illinois, the use of isolation rooms is unregulated, leaving children to handle traumatic experiences alone.
Trigger Warning: Child Abuse
In the classrooms of Chicago's public schools, unknown to the students' parents, are "isolation rooms." They tend to go by gentler names: "The reflection room. The cool-down room. The calming room. The quiet room." They are essentially nothing but distress chambers built to coerce children, especially disabled children, into obeying instructions. However, they are not working. Deep inside these rooms, children who need attention from well-trained educators and doctors are practically tortured. From being forced to bang on doors and scratch windows to openly defecate, children undergo traumatic experiences in these rooms. Behavioral experts have warned against using isolation as a tool to correct behavior. Yet they are perfectly legal and even worse, Chicago school districts seem to simply not care, The Chicago Tribune reports.
School employees have used isolated timeout sessions as convenient methods of punishment - sometimes out of frustration - after children have refused to do homework, for swearing, or even for accidentally spilling milk. Sometimes, they refer to these timeouts as "serving time." And even though there are amiable labels like "the calming room," there is little to nothing "calming" about them. Children bang against the padded walls, urinate, and scream to be let out. Ever since isolation rooms have been in practice, educators have been told to take consistent notes about the time that children spend in these rooms and the kinds of behaviors they exhibit. Until The Chicago Tribune, in collaboration with ProPublica Illinois, investigated, no one had reviewed these notes - not even the children's parents.
For instance, nine-year-old Jace Gill was locked inside a "quiet room" one morning after he had ripped up his math worksheet and tried to leave the school premises. At age three, he was diagnosed with autism and this behavior is in line with the disability's symptoms. Despite this, his teachers placed him in a five-foot-square space made of plywood and cinder block, the quiet room. There, he wet his pants, defecated, and "danced" in his feces before his grandmother came to pick him up. He had screamed, "I’m naked! I need more clothes... Let me out of here. I’m crying alone." For hours, he was left in the room alone, as his teachers diligently took notes. Excerpts from the notes read, "Dancing in feces. Doing the twist." Several other notes provide the sickening details of the time he spent there. Moreover, this was not the only incident; little Jace was locked inside the isolation room at least 28 times.
While his teachers were well aware of this punishment, his family was not. When his mother Kylee Beaven first toured his school, she was reassured that he would never be locked inside an isolation room. She only discovered the reports of his punishments when The Chicago Tribune approached her. "I didn’t know it was like this. I didn’t know they wrote this all down," Kylee stated in shock. "None of it should have happened." She recalled what it was like seeing an isolation room for the first time, "I remember standing there and thinking, like, if I was a kid, how would I feel if I was in this room by myself?"
And experts are answering her question. According to Ross Greene, a clinical child psychologist and author of the book The Explosive Child, "You end up with an alienated, disenfranchised kid who is being over-punished and lacks faith in adults." Therefore, administrators in various school districts are trying to bring about change. They hope to eliminate child seclusion entirely. First, they will need to show educators that isolation is an unacceptable practice, and then, teach them how to identify and handle the root causes of challenging behavior, particularly prior to it reaching a point of crisis. At present, federal and state laws do not regulate the use of isolation rooms, but with enough push, schools in Illinois will have to do better for their students.