REPORT: Illinois Schools Regularly Lock Students in Illegal Solitary Confinement

‘You really have to believe that you’re dealing with people who are deeply defective…’

REPORT: Illinois Schools Regularly Lock Students in Illegal Solitary Confinement

A student sits in the designated ‘time out’ space of a classroom in Nashville, Tenn. Illinois has come under fire for confining unruly students to ‘reflection rooms’ for extended periods of time. / IMAGE: Edutopia via Youtube

(Claire Russel, Liberty Headlines) Illinois schools routinely confine students with behavioral problems and mental disabilities in “quiet rooms,” a new investigative report by the Chicago Tribune and ProPublica found.

Illinois hasn’t completely banned child confinement, unlike the rest of the country. But teachers and administrators still violate state law by locking children in so-called timeout rooms for seemingly minor wrongdoings, such as spilling milk or shouting.

These spaces are called “reflection rooms,” and ProPublica found more than 20,000 incidents in the 2017-18 school year in which children were kept in these rooms—sometimes for multiple hours.

“In the nearly 50,000 pages of reports reporters reviewed about Illinois students in seclusion, school workers often keep watch over children who are clearly in distress,” the article states. “They dutifully document kids urinating and spitting in fear or anger and then being ordered to wipe the walls clean and mop the floors.”

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One student was locked in a “reflection room” for up to 10 hours, the Tribune found.

Scot Danforth, an education professor at Chapman University, said that teachers might justify the solitary confinement by telling themselves that children with disabilities are “defective.”

“You really have to believe that you’re dealing with people who are deeply defective [to put children in timeout rooms]. And that’s what the staff members tell each other,” Danforth said. “You can do it because of who you’re doing it to.”

Using solitary confinement as a punishment is illegal in Illinois and is reserved for safety issues only, but Illinois school administrators ignore this law completely, the report found.

The report details one instance in 2017 at Bridges Learning Center when all five timeout “booths” were full by 8:35 a.m.

“Each booth is about 6 by 8 feet, with a steel door,” the report stated.

“That day, one held a boy who had hung on a basketball rim and swore at staff when they told him to stop. In another, a boy who had used ‘raised voice tones.’ Two boys were being held because they hadn’t finished classwork. Inside the fifth room was a boy who had tried to ‘provoke’ other students when he got off a bus. Staff told him he’d be back again ‘to serve 15 minutes every morning due to his irrational behavior,’” it said.

None of those reasons for seclusion is permitted under Illinois law, the report stated. In fact, 72 percent of all seclusions that investigators studied are illegal under Illinois law.

Many of these schools refused to tell parents if they locked their children in solitary confinement. One mother found out the hard way when her son, Isaiah, found out that he had “headache and ringing in his ears” from banging his head against the wall of an isolation room. He had been doing this for years, but the school never told her.

Other students “ripped their fingernails or bruised their knuckles hitting the door,” the report stated. “Their hands swelled and bled from beating the walls. In some cases, children were hurt so badly that ambulances were called.”

In light of the report, the Illinois State Board of Education announced it will issue guidance clarifying that seclusion cannot be used as a punishment, and Illinois legislators have suggested they will take action to guarantee oversight of schools that continue to rely on the harmful practice.