To discipline misbehaving students, public schools in Ohio and Florida regularly send children to “seclusion” — isolation in a locked cell-like room, old office, or closet, NPR’s State Impact reports. Many of these children are special needs students and their parents are not always told of this disciplinary practice.
Ohio schools — where seclusion is almost completely unregulated — sent students to seclusion rooms 4,236 times in the 2009-2010 school year. Sixty percent of these students had disabilities.
Florida schools secluded students 4,637 times in 2010-2011 and 4,193 in 2011-2012. 42 percent of seclusions were for pre-K through 3rd graders. In the 2011-2012 school year, 300 seclusions lasted more than an hour. The state has just three stipulations for using seclusion rooms: teachers may not choke or suffocate students, the room must be approved by a fire marshal, and the lights must be left on.
But last school year, one Pickerington special-education teacher sent children to a seclusion room more than 60 times, district records show. In nearly all of those incidents, the children were not violent. Often, they were sent to the seclusion room for being “mouthy,” or whining about their school work.
Pickerington Special Education Director Bob Blackburn said the teacher in that classroom was new and that someone in the district has now taught her the right way to use the seclusion room.
Other Pickerington teachers misused the rooms, too, though. In another classroom, children were secluded more than 30 times last school year. Two-thirds of those instances involved misbehavior and not violence, district records show.
Far from benefiting violent or rowdy students, seclusion has been found to be deeply traumatizing, sometimes leading children to hurt or kill themselves. In one special education school in Georgia, a 13-year-old boy hung himself in a seclusion room in November 2004.
This post has been updated with more accurate and detailed data from the Florida DOE.