By BILL LICHTENSTEIN: IN my public school 40 years ago, teachers didn’t lay their hands on students for bad behavior. They sent them to the principal’s office. But in today’s often overcrowded and underfunded schools, where one in eight students receive help for special learning needs, the use of physical restraints and seclusion rooms has become a common way to maintain order.
It’s a dangerous development, as I know from my daughter’s experience. At the age of 5, she was kept in a seclusion room for up to an hour at a time over the course of three months, until we discovered what was happening. The trauma was severe.
According to national Department of Education data, most of the nearly 40,000 students who were restrained or isolated in seclusion rooms during the 2009-10 school year had learning, behavioral, physical or developmental needs, even though students with those issues represented just 12 percent of the student population. African-American and Hispanic students were also disproportionately isolated or restrained.
Joseph Ryan, an expert on the use of restraints who teaches at Clemson University, told me that the practice of isolating and restraining problematic children originated in schools for children with special needs. It migrated to public schools in the 1970s as federal laws mainstreamed special education students, but without the necessary oversight or staff training. “It’s a quick way to respond but it’s not effective in changing behaviors,” he said.