Human Rights

"Isolation Rooms" in Elementary Schools: Are They Treatment or Punishment?

In Washington state, an elementary school's use of a padded isolation room is sparking controversy.

A Washington state public elementary school is under fire over its use of a "isolation room"--a small padded box that, to many, appears similar to solitary confinement boxes used inside prisons.

The school district has explained that the room is designed to be a calming space for children with severe behavioral disabilities, and that no student placed in the "isolation room" without written permission from his or her parents.
However, a handful of parents and grandparents have told a local news station that their children were also placed in the "isolation room" without parental permission, sparking intense questions around whether the room is a method of intense therapeutic treatment for some of the school district's most disabled students or whether it has also become a form of punishment for any child that is acting out in the classroom.
The school district said that, so far, no parents have complained about the use of the isolation room.
The controversy began when a mother of one student at the school posted photos of the isolation room on Facebook. The photos and her outraged description of the room went viral, sparking a local news investigation. The reports discovered that the use of isolation rooms in public schools is fairly widespread in this area of southwest Washington, but that all schools say that only special-needs students whose parents have approved the treatment use the rooms.
Watch the news segment to learn more:

Laura Gottesdiener is a freelance journalist and the author of "A Dream Foreclosed: Black America and the Fight for a Place to Call Home," forthcoming from Zuccotti Park Press.

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