Illinois schools put students in solitary confinement where they 'banged their heads against walls, urinated in their pants', claims probe
A new investigation into Illinois schools has found that some of them confined students with behavioral problems and mental disabilities in supposed "quiet rooms".
Investigative reports by the Chicago Tribune and ProPublica revealed how the state has not completely banned child confinement, unlike the rest of the country. Teachers and administrators were found to violate state law by locking children in timeout rooms for minor wrongdoings like shouting or spilling milk.
During the 2017-18 school year, ProPublica found more than 20,000 incidents where students were kept in so-called "reflection rooms" for several hours on end.
"In the nearly 50,000 pages of reports reporters reviewed about Illinois students in seclusion, school workers often keep watch over children who are clearly in distress," the article stated.
"They dutifully document kids urinating and spitting in fear or anger and then being ordered to wipe the walls clean and mop the floors." Meanwhile, the Tribune found how one student was locked in a "reflection room" for up to 10 hours.
Professor Scot Danforth of Chapman University told the outlet that teachers might justify the punishment by saying that children with disabilities were "defective".
"You really have to believe that you're dealing with people who are deeply defective [to put children in timeout rooms]. And that's what the staff members tell each other," Danforth said. "You can do it because of who you're doing it to."
The report found that several Illinois school administrators had completely ignored state law that deems solitary confinement as an illegal punishment and reserves it for safety issues only.
In one instance from 2017, it was found that all five timeout "booths" at the Bridges Learning Center were full by 8.35 am. "Each booth is about 6 by 8 feet, with a steel door," according to the Tribune.
"That day, one held a boy who had hung on a basketball rim and swore at staff when they told him to stop. In another, a boy who had used 'raised voice tones'. Two boys were being held because they hadn't finished classwork," according to the report.
"Inside the fifth room was a boy who had tried to 'provoke' other students when he got off a bus. Staff told him he'd be back again 'to serve 15 minutes every morning due to his irrational behavior'," the report added.
The report also noted that none of the reasons listed for seclusion are permitted under Illinois law. It was found that quite a few schools did not inform parents if their children were in solitary confinement.
One of the mothers found her son was kept in isolation only after he had "headache and ringing in his ears" from banging his head against the wall of a timeout room.
Other children "ripped their fingernails or bruised their knuckles hitting the door", stated the report. "Their hands swelled and bled from beating the walls. In some cases, children were hurt so badly that ambulances were called."
The Illinois State Board of Education took heed of the bombshell report and subsequently announced that they would issue guidance clarifying that using seclusion as a punishment is illegal and that schools that defiantly continue the harmful practice will face strict action.