School Solitary Confinement: Should Disabled Children be Locked in School Closets?
On July 10, 2010, school solitary confinement, also known as school seclusion, was banned in Georgia by the Department of Education. Parents, writers, and lawyers had been advocating against the practice for years. Old rules for school seclusion stated that isolation rooms should be well-lit, and large enough for students to lie down. Photos taken by opponents of the policy, however, revealed that seclusion rooms were small, dark, and double-bolted.
My book The Forgotten Room: Inside a Public Alternative School for At-Risk Youth exposes school seclusion in Georgia. It contains revealing photographs. Copies were sent to legislators in Washington DC.
Meanwhile, on the Federal level, Congressman George Miller (D-CA) has introduced a bill, H.R. 4247, titled the “Keeping All Students Safe Act.” This bill would have prohibited school staff members from restraining a child chemically, mechanically, or physically — unless the child imposed an immediate threat to other students. The bill also would also have made it illegal for school staff members to seclude children in cases in which the children posed no immediate threat.
H.R. 4247 passed in the U.S. House of Representatives, but did not pass in the Senate. In 2015, Donald Beyer (D-VA) reintroduced the bill, but the House of Representatives sent it to the Committee on Education, where it eventually died without even a single vote.
Even if this bill had passed, however, it may not have been enough to protect children from mistreatment through putting them in what is in effect solitary confinement. Despite the practice being banned in Georgia, reports still arise of students’ isolation in school
closets, and students with disabilities are the primary victims of this mistreatment. With the advent of iPhone cameras, more individuals can now document instances of school seclusion.
Can this practice be stamped out at last? Only if enough parents and educators join in the fight to pass legislation such as this.
School staff and educators should speak out and help stop this ongoing human rights violation of some of our most vulnerable children.