The Illinois State Board of Education is encouraging anyone with information about abusive time-out rooms or restraints in any school setting to share that information directly with the agency. The request comes in the wake of a report earlier this week by the Chicago Tribune and ProPublica documenting thousands of instances of children, usually with special needs, placed in seclusion in their schools.
Kevin Rubenstein, president of a statewide group of special education administrators, told the board to expect to hear even more stories.
"You will hear about school districts that did not report data to the federal government. You will learn about how many issues there are in private special education facilities across the state. And we will hear story after story of families and children who are not being served well," he said.
Anyone with relevant information can send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
State Superintendent Carmen Ayala opened Friday’s board meeting by reading a statement she said was addressed to students who had experienced isolated seclusion and their families.
“What happened to you is appalling, inexcusable, and deeply saddening. Under my administration, ISBE will aggressively investigate all cases, and pursue disciplinary and corrective action to the full extent of the law,” she said. “Isolation and seclusion harm students’ mental, physical, and social-emotional health. These practices have no therapeutic or educational value and cause children lasting trauma.”
Such practices aren't unique to Illinois. ProPublica investigated the use of seclusion and physical restraints across the country in 2014.
ISBE on Wednesday implemented emergency rules banning isolated seclusion as well as physical restraints that could make it hard for a child to breathe or speak normally, such as prone and supine holds.
Ayala said the emergency rule makes the following changes:
• Bans all isolated seclusion practices;
• Mandates that time out or physical restraint shall be utilized only for therapeutic reasons or for protecting the safety of students or staff;
• Mandates that if time out is utilized, a trained adult must be in the room with the student;
• Mandates that any space used for time out shall remain unlocked;
• Bans physical restraints that could impair a student’s ability to breathe or speak normally, including prone and supine physical restraints, and institutes strict parameters on when physical restraint is allowed;
• Bans physical restraint for students for whom it is medically contra-indicated; • Requires any adult who is supervising a student in time out or applying physical restraint to be trained in de-escalation, restorative practices, and behavior management practices;
• Requires educational entities to document the use of time out and physical restraint on a form created by the State Superintendent;
• Requires educational entities to send the form to the parents of the student within 24 hours of the time out or physical restraint;
• Requires educational entities to submit the form to ISBE within 48 hours of any instance of physical restraint or time out;
• Eliminates the option for parents or guardians to waive notification of instances of time out or physical restraint; and
• Creates a procedure parallel to the special education state complaint process for individuals to file complaints related to inappropriate use of time out or physical restraint on behalf of students without disabilities.
Zena Naiditch, founder and president of Equip for Equality, told the board that simply requiring a trained adult to be present with a student in time out would have a huge effect.
"It's very convenient, if you have a troublesome student, to simply lock them somewhere and simply forget about it,” she said. “If a staff person has to be with a student the entire time they're in the room, the attractiveness of that option goes way down."
The new measures will remain in effect for 150 days and while being reviewed by a bipartisan rule-making committee.