Digging Deeper: Bill aims to end “Quiet Rooms” in Illinois schools

Story was originally reported by Danny Valle for WSIL TV News 3. A link to the original article as well as video segments may be found HERE.

(WSIL) — In 2019, when ProPublica released an article about ‘Quiet Rooms’ in Illinois schools, the state acted quickly.

It instituted an emergency order to halt the practice and promised legislation to end ‘seclusion rooms’ once and for all. Seventeen months later, the legislation is closer to being law.

“This is a great bill. When it’s finalized it will be a phenomenal bill,” said State Rep. Jonathan Carroll (D-Northbrook), the bill’s chief sponsor.

PURPOSE OF QUIET ROOMS

‘Quiet Rooms’, or ‘isolation timeouts’, are places students went if they posed a threat to themselves and others.

The ProPublica piece painted disturbing images of children locked in small rooms while a teacher sat outside, watching and documenting. Some students stayed inside for hours.

Jodi Cohen, a ProPublica journalist and one of the story’s authors, says she spoke to some superintendents who didn’t review seclusion reports.

“Nothing happened with those reports,” Cohen said. “There was just no accountability or nobody looking to see what had happened.”

TRI-COUNTY’S PROGRESS

Educators must now report seclusions to the state within 48 hours after it happens, said Jan Pearcy, director of Tri-County Special Education in Carbondale.

Tri-County manages programs in Jackson, Perry and Union counties. The article uncovered evidence of ‘Quiet Rooms’ in three Tri-County schools.

Those include Dewey School in Anna, Ward School in Du Quoin and Jonesboro Elementary in Jonesboro.

“It’s never pleasant to be a part of these types of issues,” Pearcy said. “I think it gives us an opportunity to reflect on our practices and get better.”

Assistant director Zeppelyn Brewer says schools removed the locks, keep doors wide open and have an instructor inside at all times. The instructor documents the child’s behavior every three to five minutes, Brewer says.

“The minute the student is quiet they are given their choice of going back to the classroom or would they like more time for themselves,” Brewer said.

Pearcy says the schools use those rooms as ‘Quiet Spaces’, rooms that help calm children with disabilities, most commonly Autism.

Tri-County also utilized crisis prevention intervention training, focusing on restorative practices. The state recommended eight hours of training. Brewer says staff have completed about 16 to 20 additional hours.

“All the documentation immediately comes to me. I review. If I have any concerns I meet with the staff immediately,” Brewer said.

OTHER SOUTHERN ILLINOIS ‘QUIET ROOMS’

Tri-County is one of four Southern Illinois school districts with documented data in the article.

JAMP Special Education Services in New Grand Chain and Williamson County Special Education District in Marion did not respond to News 3’s request for comment.

The report found 39 reported seclusion incidents at Zeiger-Royalton CUSD #188 between 2015 to 2016, using data from the U.S. Department of Education. It also reported 4 isolated timeouts, based on district data.

Superintendent Quent Hamilton denies the existence of seclusion rooms in the district. Hamilton says reporters misconstrued the data.

“I think there was a confusion on exactly what the question was asking,” Hamilton said. “We have a supervised study room, which is supervised by either a teacher or a paraprofessional.”

But Cohen, who read some of the details in the documents obtained from Zeigler-Royalton, disagrees.

“We read all these reports including from Zeigler-Royalton,” Cohen said. “The reports say these are isolated timeout and restraint reports.”

QUIET ROOM LEGISLATION PROGRESS

House Bill 0219 would ban the use of seclusion rooms and prone restraint, Carroll said. If passed, the bill would take effect immediately.

Carroll said schools can continue using prone restraint on a student for the next two years, but only if it’s part of a student’s individualized education plan.

The painful memories of ‘Quiet Rooms’ power Carroll to write the bill. Carroll remembers being in a ‘Quiet Room’ when he was a student at the now-defunct Borg School in Morton Grove.

“[I remember] this tan carpet with a little window on the door that would lock,” Carroll said. “It was probably a 6×6 room.”

Dr. Mary Louise Cashel, program director for SIU’s Clinical Psychology Department, says trauma varies by student. Dr. Cashel says the legislation can work if it can provide funding and training to staff.

It also needs to ensure that physical intervention methods are a last resort for educators, Dr. Cashel says.

“I think there would still need to be a very careful review of exactly the circumstances under which any type of physical intervention might be necessary,” Dr. Cashel said.

Dr. Cashel added that legislation needs protocols for how physical intervention would be followed and monitored, if used.

Illinois led the nation in seclusion incidents with 4,123 in the 2013-14 school year, according to the U.S. Department of Education.

Carroll called that statistic ‘unacceptable’ and hopes his bill will mark the end of ‘Quiet Rooms’.

“If my experiences can stop other kids from having this happen to them, then I’ve done my job,” Carroll said.” As a human being and as a legislator.”

The bill passed the House last week and is now in the Senate. The bill is in the assignments committee and gained three Senate co-sponsors within the last week

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