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Monday, September 10, 2012

School Discipline

I am wondering if anyone outside the United States has heard about "scream rooms", "seclusion rooms", or physical restraints inside of a school.  I am not talking about schools from the 1950's or earlier, rather I am talking about schools now, in the present, in 2012.  Personally, I had heard about a "scream room" in Middletown, Connecticut, but outside of that one instance, I hadn't heard about these types of rooms or restraints at all.  Unfortunately, it seems to be quite a common occurrence throughout the United States.  You probably won't find these types of rooms in a private or upscale public school.  Instead, it seems that most of these instances occur in overcrowded or underfunded schools.  There are some frightening statistics that accompany these rooms and restraints.  During the 2009-2010 school year, 40,000 children had to be either physically restrained or placed in a seclusion room.  The majority of these children had learning, behavioral, developmental, or physical needs.  This is an issue that seems to be on the rise (although as my wife pointed out, as the population rises, so do the instances such as this, and the likelihood that more people will hear about them).  To me, this speaks about issues on two fronts, schools and parents.  I can't entirely place the burden on schools as I feel part of the issue comes from troubled families that either don't have the time or won't make the time to understand and work with their children in such a way that prepares them for school.  Obviously there is only so much a parent can do sometimes with their children and I don't want to make this about bad parenting which I don't believe it is.  But I do feel that in some cases that parents carry some of the burden.  Enough about the parenting as these instances are not occurring within households, but rather within schools that are supposed to keep children safe and help them grow and learn. 

I am torn in my opinion on this issue.  On one hand, I believe there are times when a student who exhibits violent behaviour needs to be restrained in order to maintain the safety of the other students and teachers.  However, beyond that, I don't believe that seclusion rooms or any type of discipline along those lines should be used.  It seems to be the easy way out to me.  Instead of dealing with an issue as it arises and working with the child to overcome whatever problem they are having, teachers and aides simply remove the child from the equation till they are manageable again.  If anything, I would think that seclusion rooms or scream rooms for that matter simply make the matter worse.  This type of discipline doesn't solve anything, it simply upsets and frustrates the student who is the victim of such discipline.  In one case in the article I read, a kindergartner who threw tantrums was placed in a "seclusion room".  She was placed there for up to an hour each time, sometimes three or four times a day.  This "seclusion room" was nothing more than a janitor's closet with nothing in it save for a light bulb and maybe a chair.  One day the girl had to use the bathroom and instead of getting her clothes wet, she took them off to pee.  Once the teacher or administrator found out, they simply called the parents, told them their daughter had taken all her clothes off and they needed to come pick her up.  To me this is on the border of abuse if not outright abuse.  What kind of mental scars will this child develop from being placed in the seclusion room?  I don't know and frankly I don't want to.  In the end, it is wrong and unacceptable. 

I understand that things are a lot more difficult in schools that are underfunded or overcrowded.  The money isn't there to hire enough teachers or aides and there are simply too many children for the teachers to deal with on a personal basis.  However, this shouldn't provide an excuse to utilize seclusion rooms as an easy out for children with problems.  In another case, a fourth grader was placed in a duffel bag, the drawstrings pulled tight, and placed outside a classroom like a bag of trash.  Is this the proper way to handle a child with issues?  Not in my mind.  Again, I am picking the worst instances to highlight this issue, but if these few issues are highlighted, how many more are there that we haven't heard about?  What this all boils down to is figuring out how to even the playing field when it comes to schools.  The schools that are overcrowded or underfunded need help and unless we figure out a way of helping them, this issue will perpetuate itself.  Instead of placing the onus on scores and tests to receive adequate funding, perhaps we need a different model where a school receives funding based upon the student population.  We shouldn't single out the best schools to receive more funding.  Rather, we should direct more funding to the schools that need it.  There should be a set amount of funding that goes to public schools from the U.S. government and it should be allotted based upon need, not scores.  However we deal with it, the issue of seclusion rooms and restraints needs to be addressed before it gets out of hand.  I just know that if my son was ever placed in a seclusion room, I would go ballistic.  But then again, would I even know about it?

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