03 Jan Complaint seeks changes to seclusion in Iowa City schoolsJanuary 3, 2017
By: Holly Hines
Source: Iowa City Press-Citizen
A recent complaint to the Iowa Department of Education seeks changes to seclusion spaces, practices and terminology in the Iowa City Community School District.
Mary Richard, a Coralville attorney, filed the complaint in recent weeks, saying seclusion in schools can negatively affect children educationally, physically and psychologically. She raised concerns about seclusion rooms’ construction materials, parents’ awareness of their conditions and the district’s use of the rooms in non-emergency situations.
“A reasonable parent generally does not expect that a time-out (takes) place within the harsh conditions of a plywood box lined with foul-smelling black horse stall mats and flooring underlayment made from recycled tires, and is therefore unlikely to ask to see a seclusion unit,” she said in the complaint.
Richard said the district fails to meet a standard set in the 1982 U.S. Supreme Court case Board of Education v. Rowley, which says special education students’ individualized education plans should “be reasonably calculated to provide a meaningful educational benefit.”
The complaint comes less than a month after the Iowa City Community School Board decided to form a committee to evaluate the district’s use of seclusion rooms. District officials said the team will consider options ranging from keeping to eliminating seclusion rooms.
Kristin Pedersen, the district’s coordinator of community affairs, said Tuesday that the district and Iowa Department of Education are resolving the complaint through work already underway with an implementation adviser regarding special education concerns.
The district is working with the adviser to address areas of noncompliance with the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act revealed before and during a recent investigation by the Department of Education.
Interim special education director Jane Fry has also said the district is revisiting training on alternatives to seclusion, including positive behavior intervention and supports.
Seclusion rooms are confined areas with padded walls that schools, under Iowa law, can use during some behavior incidents that rise above minor infractions. The law spells out required conditions for the rooms and allows their use only after staff members attempt other disciplinary practices. There are 18 seclusion rooms in the district’s 26 elementary and secondary schools.
Richard in the complaint said a majority of seclusion incidents in the district during the 2013-14 school year occurred among students with diagnosed disabilities and individualized education plans.
The only students without education plans that district staff placed in seclusion during 2013 were 23 black students, according to the U.S. Department of Education’s Civil Rights data collection.
Richard in the complaint also took issue with the term “time-out room,” which the district uses to refer to seclusion rooms, calling for an end to its usage in this context.
She proposed that the district eliminate seclusion rooms by the 2017-18 school year and replace them with “calming areas and rooms” constructed from different materials, based on research and recommendations from the Grant Wood Education Agency.
In the meantime, she said she wants the district to limit the rooms’ usage to “emergency situations in which a student’s behavior poses immediate danger of serious physical injury to the student or others.”
Richard also requested other changes in practice, including a requirement that the district show the rooms, or pictures of the rooms, to parents of special education students whose education plans include seclusion.
She called for further consideration of alternatives to seclusion, and for requiring the district to notify parents after seclusion occurs.