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Lawmakers Demand Answers On 'Seclusion Rooms'

Carter Staley
NPR Illinois

Illinois lawmakers on Tuesday grilled officials about the practice of locking kids in “seclusion rooms” in schools. It’s the first legislative hearing since a news report brought attention to the practice late last year.

The story, from ProPublica Illinois and the Chicago Tribune, revealed thousands of incidents in which kids with special needs were locked away, usually alone, and often for reasons that broke the law.

Venessa Fawley?, the mother of a 9-year-old on the autism spectrum, told lawmakers she wasn’t shocked by the report, “but what really angered me is that such criminal abuse went on for so long with little accountability.”

“Where was the oversight?” she asked. “Who was in charge?”

State Rep. Sue Scherer, a Decatur Democrat and retired teacher, said educators need better guidance on what they should be doing within the limits of the law.

“We have got to make a very firm, firm commitment to the funding of these training programs, because it is just so unfair to continue doing and operating the way we have been,” Scherer said.

Experts and advocates at the hearing told lawmakers that schools need more resources for training and oversight of all staff.

Education officials also said there was a difference between legitimate, therapy-based de-escalation techniques and the abuse exposed by the investigation.

Mike Smith is a graduate Public Affairs Reporting intern for the spring 2020 legislative session.
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