Illinois School Officials Promise to Stop Use of Solitary Confinement Punish Students

Original story written by Zack Budryk for The Hill, and published on 11/21/19. Link to original article may be found HERE.

Illinois officials have pledged to end the practice of solitary confinement for schoolchildren after an expose by ProPublica and the Chicago Tribune revealed it was a common punishment that had been used for offenses such as using “raised tones.”

The State Board of Education promised immediate action on the issue Wednesday, according to The Washington Post, while Gov. J.B. Pritzker (D) tweeted the practice “traumatizes children, does lasting damage to the most vulnerable and violates the most deeply held values of my administration and the State of Illinois.”

Illinois led all states in secluding children in locked rooms for the 2013–2014 school year, but advocates against the practice hope widespread outrage over the reporting will create nationwide momentum. A bill to outlaw seclusion in public schools receiving federal funding is currently stuck in committee in the House.

“I hope this important [ProPublica-Tribune] story is seen by every member of Congress,” Zena Naiditch, president of the disability advocacy organization Equip for Equality, told the Post. “I have no doubt that what we’re seeing in Illinois is occurring around the country.”

The Department of Education has said seclusion should only be used in cases where the child in question’s behavior creates “imminent danger of serious physical harm to self or others.” However, Illinois schools reviewed in the ProPublica-Tribune investigation found more than 4,000 incidents where no safety issue was reported.

The investigation indicates most of the students isolated were disabled. State Rep. Jonathan Carroll (D), who said he was himself placed in such environs as a student with ADHD, said he would introduce legislation banning the practice.

“I can recall every detail from the smell, lighting and texture of the carpeted walls. There was a small window on the door. One constituent who contacted us through social media shared that he still has scars on his knuckles from punching the carpeted walls because panic had set in,” Carroll wrote in a statement.

“This treatment was, and continues to be, beyond cruel. We isolate criminals instead of using the death penalty. Think about that for a second; we use the same intervention on children that’s used on our worst criminals,” he added.

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