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State school board to make emergency rule changes in response to isolation room report

  • Gov. J.B. Pritzker responds to questions about a report from the Chicago Tribune and ProPublica that detailed the use of isolation rooms to discipline children in Illinois.

    Gov. J.B. Pritzker responds to questions about a report from the Chicago Tribune and ProPublica that detailed the use of isolation rooms to discipline children in Illinois.
    Courtesy of Illinois Department of Central Management Services

  • State Rep. Jonathan Carroll

    State Rep. Jonathan Carroll

By Jerry Nowicki
Capitol News Illinois
updated: 11/22/2019 5:11 PM

SPRINGFIELD -- The state's board of education announced emergency rule changes Wednesday in response to a news report that detailed an overuse of "isolation rooms" in several Illinois public school districts, including those serving students with special education needs.

That news investigation, published by the Chicago Tribune and ProPublica Tuesday, analyzed thousands of pages of records that showed "every school day, workers isolate children for reasons that violate the law."

There were more than 20,000 documented incidences of isolation used in the state from the start of the 2017-18 school year through December 2018, according to the report, which also relied on more than 120 interviews to detail the harrowing experiences of the children involved.

"The students, most of them with disabilities, scratch the windows or tear at the padded walls. They throw their bodies against locked doors. They wet their pants. Some children spend hours inside these rooms, missing class time. Through it all, adults stay outside the door, writing down what happens," according to the report.

In Illinois, it is legal to isolate students if they pose a safety threat to themselves or others, the report found, but the practice is used for more for other reasons.

"Children were sent to isolation after refusing to do classwork, for swearing, for spilling milk, for throwing Legos. School employees use isolated timeout for convenience, out of frustration or as punishment, sometimes referring to it as 'serving time,'" according to the report.

On Wednesday afternoon, the state board announced the implementation of emergency rules to "end the use of isolated seclusion in Illinois schools." A news release said the changes would be made at the request of Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker.

"That story, and what's happened according to that story, are appalling," Pritzker said of the ProPublica Tribune report at an unrelated news conference Wednesday morning.

The state board of education said it will begin collecting data to "increase accountability and transparency for all instances of timeout and physical restraint."

According to the release, the board will amend rules to allow timeouts with a trained adult in the room and with an unlocked door, "but only for therapeutic reasons or protecting the safety of students and staff."

Democratic Rep. Jonathan Carroll of Northbrook posted an emotional account on his website about his personal experiences with "quiet rooms" and said he would do all in his power to end the practice.

"Trust me, I know first-hand how painful being isolated can be. My childhood was very difficult. I was diagnosed with ADHD at a time where people still didn't quite understand the disorder. There were many interventions used including isolation timeouts in a locked closed space," Carroll wrote. "I am 45 years old and still have nightmares because of this treatment.

"Isolation was my personal hell. I begged my parents to take me out of that school and when they did, it changed my life. My struggles didn't go away, but I learned better coping strategies without having to be isolated."

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