The Columbus, Ohio school district has a track record of horrible behavior toward mentally disabled children, and a new report reveals the extent of the problem: One in 25 special education students has been “held down, physically removed from class or put in closetlike rooms to calm down.”
According to a state review of the Columbus school district, 371 students had suffered such punishment a total of 1,829 times. Students were secluded for as long as three hours. One report from a particular student offered a chilling insight into how the school operated beyond parental permissions:
14. The parent indicated in the communication book on November 11, 2011 that she did not want the student to be placed in the time out room.
15. The parent again indicated on November 14, 2011 in the communication book that she did not want the student to be taken or forced into the seclusion closet.
16. On November 14, 2011, the staff indicated that the student placed himself in the time out room.
17. On November 17, 2011, the parent indicated in the communication book that the student was scared of the light in the seclusion closet. She again stated that she did not want the student to be placed in the seclusion closet.
The descriptions in your findings read like a horror story. Children were repeatedly restrained and secluded, some for as long as 3 hours. And frankly, the tone of your letter suggests that the difficult behaviors are the fault of the child which justifies the district’s response. What evidence-based interventions were brought to bear to assist these children in managing their behaviors? There is no evidence to suggest that seclusion and restraint interventions do anything except to escalate behaviors.
Gilman was right to worry that the state was not properly scrutinizing the issue: The state investigator actually used to work for the school district. She is also right to question the validity of seclusion in general. Studies suggest that such methods are terrible for the emotional health of children, and have prompted some to inflict physical harm on themselves.