Legislation would outlaw ‘scream rooms,’ other types of school discipline

Katie Callahan Contributor
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Legislation proposed alongside a recent U.S. Senate report calls for schools to limit physical restraint and unsupervised seclusion as parts of classroom discipline, and eliminate the use of “scream rooms.”

These practices have resulted in at least 10 deaths or significant injuries in different states, according to data collected by the key education committee in the Senate working on the report.

While prohibited in other settings, schools in the U.S. practiced these disciplinary actions at least 66,000 times in one school year, according to data collected by the Department of Education in 2009 and 2010.

The tactics were described in a 2012 ABC News investigation.

“Scream rooms” are sized four feet by four feet or six feet by six feet and padded, according to The Hill. Similarly, “isolation booths” are located in storage areas, and contain two peepholes, padding within the small room and air holes for ventilation, ABC News reported.

Democratic Connecticut Sen. Chris Murphy developed the legislation.

Seclusion and restraint discipline techniques were used 18,000 times in 2009 and 2010 in Connecticut, according to the state Department of Education.

“There is no evidence that physically restraining or putting children in unsupervised seclusion in the K-12 school system provides any educational or therapeutic benefit to a child,” the Senate report said. “In fact, use of either seclusion or restraints in non-emergency situations poses significant physical and psychological danger to students.”

Democratic Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin recounted a couple cases, which include a 14-year-old boy from Georgia who committed suicide after being left in such a room, an eight-year-old with attention and hyperactivity disorders from Minnesota secluded 44 times, and a Florida teen who faced restraint and seclusion multiple times was diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder and placed in a psychiatric facility.

According to the report, little protection is in place for students facing disciplinary action in U.S. schools.

“Under current law, a family whose child has been injured, experienced trauma, or, in the worst case, has died as a result of the use of seclusion or restraints practices in a school has little or no recourse through school procedures or the courts,” the report said.

“In fact, the investigation found that only eighteen states currently require parents be notified about the use of seclusion or restraints.”

Daniel A. Domenech, president of the American Association of School Administrators, said in an ABC News interview in 2012 that such discipline tactics are necessary to keep children who are acting out from hurting anyone.

However, Dr. Michael George, director of the Centennial School in Bethlehem, Penn., one of the educators sought out by the committee, told ABC News that the methods only get in the way of that child’s education.

“I can’t imagine anything more frustrating as a parent than having a child who has problems and the people you send your child to are making matters worse,” George told ABC News.

Katie Callahan