Seclusion Room

Seclusion? Face-Down Restraint of Children In School? New IL Bill Bans This Insanity!

ProPublica is a nonprofit newsroom that investigates abuses of power.

This story is a collaboration between ProPublica and the Chicago Tribune.

Update, May 31, 2021: In a statement issued Monday, Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker confirmed he plans to sign the bill, saying the legislation will “better protect students, particularly our youngest, disabled and most vulnerable children.”

Illinois lawmakers took sweeping action Sunday to limit the use of seclusion and restraint in schools, following through on promises made after a 2019 ProPublica-Chicago Tribune investigation revealed that school workers had regularly misused the practices to punish students.

The House voted unanimously to pass legislation barring school workers from locking children alone in seclusion spaces and limiting the use of any type of isolated timeout or physical restraint to when there’s “imminent danger of physical harm.” The legislation requires schools that receive state funding to make a plan to reduce — and eventually eliminate — the practices over the next three years. Schools that develop plans more quickly can receive priority for new grant funding for staff training.

A main feature of the legislation — and the element that proved most contentious among lawmakers over the past 18 months — is an immediate ban on schools’ use of prone, or face-down, restraint for most students. Restraining a student that way would be permitted only for children whose special-education plans specifically allow it as an emergency measure and only until the end of the 2021-22 school year, granting schools more time to phase out the practice than some legislators and advocates sought.

Rep. Jonathan Carroll, a Democrat from Northbrook who sponsored the House bill, has described his enduring trauma after being secluded in school as a child.

Illinois Seclusion Rooms For Child Students

Illinois Seclusion Rooms For Child Students Zbigniew Bzdak/Chicago Tribune

“This has been a long journey for a lot of us,” Carroll told a House committee Friday before it referred the bill for the full vote in the House. “We’ve got to stop these practices from happening. We’ve got to get this right.”

The Senate previously voted 52-1 to pass the bill. The legislation now goes to Gov. J.B. Pritzker, who has called the isolation of children “appalling” and said he would work with legislators to ban it. Face-down floor restraints and seclusion, the act of confining children to small rooms as a behavioral intervention, have been legal in the state for decades.

The existing law allows school workers to use seclusion and restraint when there is a safety concern and requires no oversight. While lawmakers debated changes, state officials adopted new rules that require schools to report to the state when a student is put in seclusion or restraint. Under the bill awaiting Pritzker’s signature, the Illinois State Board of Education would be directed to sanction schools that misuse the practices.

An effort to ban seclusion in schools nationally also began anew last week. The Keeping All Students Safe Act was reintroduced jointly by House and Senate Democrats on Wednesday as U.S. lawmakers said they were committed to ending not only seclusion and prone restraint but also supine restraint, in which students are placed on their back and held down. Such legislation has stalled in Congress several times since 2009.

Illinois legislators began working to ban seclusion and restraint after a Tribune-ProPublica investigation in late 2019 revealed that some schools routinely locked children in closet-like seclusion rooms to force them to complete schoolwork, for being disrespectful to employees or for behavioral infractions as minor as spilling milk. Inside the small spaces, children sometimes cried for their parents, tore at the walls or urinated when they were denied use of the bathroom.

Although ISBE and public schools supported legislation to limit the use of seclusion and restraint, a handful of private schools lobbied against the measure, which extended the debate. They argued that prone restraint should be allowed for students in crisis.

A bill that the Senate unanimously passed during the previous session in January would have banned prone restraint immediately, but the legislation stalled in the House. In the current session, the House unanimously passed a revamped measure that addressed the private schools’ concerns and would have allowed some use of prone restraint until 2023, but the Senate balked, with some lawmakers arguing that the schools already had ample time to phase out the practice. The Senate amended the bill to end the practice in 2022, and the House agreed to that change.

Sen. Ann Gillespie, a Democrat from Arlington Heights who championed the bill, pushed for the immediate ban on prone restraint for all students instead of the two-year phase-out period that the House had adopted. “There has already been over a year where schools knew this was coming,” she said.

Gillespie said research from the Council of State Governments showed that of the 32 states that had banned prone restraint in schools, the average length of time to phase out the practice was three months. Nineteen states made the ban effective immediately, Gillespie said.

“After a year and a half of negotiations, the state of Illinois finally has a path toward the ultimate goal of eliminating the abusive practices of seclusion rooms,” said Kyle Hillman, director of legislative affairs for the National Association of Social Workers. While he said the bill falls short of ending prone restraint for all students immediately, he called it “a real win for the children currently facing these traumatic interventions.”

“Hopefully we will never have to read another story in Illinois about the trauma children like Jace Gill endured,” Hillman said. “Change is coming.” The Tribune-ProPublica investigation described how Jace urinated and defecated after being put in a seclusion room at his school for children with disabilities. School officials have not responded to questions about specific incidents.

The new legislation requires that school workers allow students to have food, water and medication and to use a bathroom while being secluded. The news investigation found students were on occasion secluded through lunchtime and workers sometimes ignored requests to use a bathroom.

Prior to the “Quiet Rooms” investigation, the state didn’t monitor schools’ use of seclusion and restraint. ISBE now requires schools to report all incidents within 48 hours.

On Thursday, ISBE provided data to the Tribune and ProPublica that showed nearly 2,400 students were secluded or restrained more than 15,000 times in the past 10 months, a time when many schools were closed because of the COVID-19 pandemic. More than 90% were students with disabilities. More than 8 in 10 students were boys, and a quarter were Black. Less than 17% of students in the state’s schools are Black.

Two of every 10 students were in prekindergarten, kindergarten or first grade.
Illinois Continued to Seclude and Restrain Students This Year Even Though Many Schools Were Closed

The data also indicates that schools continued to use prone restraint even after state officials said it was dangerous and began to restrict its use. Students were held face-down more than 100 times during the past 10 months.

Some advocates for people with disabilities said they had hoped that prone restraint would have ended immediately for all students, but they acknowledged the new legislation far exceeded what was in place.

“As much as we don’t like the fact that this is going to continue for another school year, this is a very narrow exception,” said Zena Naiditch, president and CEO of Equip for Equality, the federally appointed watchdog group for people with disabilities in Illinois. “In some states you’ve had children die or get serious injuries. And in some cases it puts staff at risk. They’re very violent interventions.”

Article Thumbnail Image: A seclusion room at Pathways school, part of the Belleville Area Special Services Cooperative, shown in a 2019 ProPublica-Chicago Tribune investigation. The school serves students with behavioral and emotional disabilities. Credit: Zbigniew Bzdak/Chicago Tribune

Jodi S. Cohen

Jodi S. Cohen is a reporter for ProPublica Illinois. Before joining ProPublica Illinois, Jodi worked at the Chicago Tribune for 14 years, including as an investigative reporter and editor. As the paper’s higher education reporter for 10 years, she, along with colleagues, exposed a secret admissions system at the University of Illinois for well-connected applicants, questionable spending at the College of DuPage, mismanagement at Chicago State University and failures in the Chicago Police Department’s disciplinary system. That work has led to numerous reforms. In 2010, she was named the Illinois Journalist of the Year by Northern Illinois University and, among other national and state honors, she is a four-time winner of a National Headliner Award, a Chicago/Midwest Emmy Award, the Chicago Headline Club’s Watchdog Award, and the Taylor Family Award for Fairness in Newspapers, administered by the Nieman Foundation. She formerly reported for The Detroit News and graduated with honors with a degree in political science from the University of Michigan, where she was Managing News Editor of The Michigan Daily.

14 Comments

  • Satanic Imp Satanic Imp says:

    …and yet…in NYC teachers can’t even have a kid sit in the corner?

    Maybe there’s a middle ground that is OK. Where kids get taught accountability. After all, my hero,m Satan HIMSELF, is all about accountability, right Christians?

    • Magnificent Zero Magnificent Zero says:

      I’m actually a Christian goth, so here goes nothing: Kids need to learn respect. But not respect as most learn it, more like a high regard for others, rather than a pattern of behaving. They need to develop a kind heart and a keen sense of what others need in the moment, and over time. They need to recognize their own shortcomings. We’re raising kids that are too entitled. And that is for every race, because I go to friends’ houses and their little sibs are just the same no matter the color skin or culture.

      Like Jesus tried to tell people to follow God’s law. That’s how we Christians see it. Not like you have to be a Christian. If you worship Satan, I don’t know about that. It’s a bit much. I could say for any religion where you worship dark forces, you’re off.

      • Satanic Imp Satanic Imp says:

        I just don’t see it like that. I mean, I can agree that just going through the motions of caring for others is ludicrous.

        Even Satanists must have heart. I respect others because I want them to respect me. But deep down, I’m a respectable guy. I break no laws (now that herb is legal) and I work and pay my taxes.

        I don’t think you get it. Satan has a job.

        I’m just really impressed with the job he’s doing. And again, I know you’ll misunderstand me. I don’t blame Satan for the people in my world who suck. I blame the people. Satan is the one who will make them pay. So don’t think I see suffering and think “Yay! Satan!” Nope. I know it’s the FREEWILLED people who made it all happen.

    • TheReal KIMpossible TheReal KIMpossible says:

      That’s good way of looking at it. I was a teacher, once. It’s about maintaining discipline. But if you keep the kids engaged, they just behave differently. I’m not blaming the teachers, sometimes those working in underprivileged areas have it worst.

      It’s a real challenge, and you can easily burn out.

      But no, honey, those kids should not be in a pretend jail, priming them for a real one in ten years!

      There are some excellent Black-run elementary schools in Newark serving primarily Black kids. No jail cell. Just be tough, yet gentle with the kids. It’s called kindness.

  • Satanic Imp Satanic Imp says:

    Re-reading this and looking at the pics again, I want the reader to consider that the creators of this torturous HELL probably identified as Christians. Satan will have fun with you all.

    • Magnificent Zero Magnificent Zero says:

      Here, we’re in perfect agreement. Where id you go wrong?

      • Satanic Imp Satanic Imp says:

        “Luke, you don’t know the power of the dark side…”

        Darth Vader
        Empire Strikes Back
        1982

      • Satanic Imp Satanic Imp says:

        Nah, just kidding. Well, sort of.

        It’s empowering to know I am my own master.

        I blame no one for my choices. I decide. With consciousness and with understanding. I think and think and feel if a decision is right. I have a sense of morality, but probably different than yours.

        Satan just means karma to me. I think that the world suffers because of poor choices people make. Not “The Devil made me do it!” Biggest farce and scapegoating ever! OK, so Satan is the one with the pitchfork, but someone has to do this job,right?

  • CRANK CRANK says:

    Beats arresting them and having them waste taxpayer money to ride in a squad care to the precinct, where they then get picked up by their mothers. Less traumatic for the kid, too.

    It’s just a chill out room. What’s the big deal?

    Some kids are just headed down a dark path. They ***NEED*** some form of discipline. If it’s not done when the kids are young, it’s too late.

    • Avatar Glen says:

      totally agree. this kids grow up to be animals or contributing members of society only when their boundaries are strictly enforced so what’s wrong with this setup really I don’t see anything wrong

  • Avatar Jodi says:

    you should do standup.
    the satanic comedian.

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