A disturbing story came out of Middletown in the past week. At Farm Hill Elementary School, children were regularly being put into an when they were disruptive.
Obviously this is a difficult situation, but this doesn’t seem like a solution that works for anyone, the children witnessing it, the children being put in the or the teachers and aides involved.
Things came to a head when the PTA president wrote a letter to the superintendent and the mayor, as well as others, about the situation and said students were being by the screams coming from the “time-out” rooms. This was followed by a public meeting and then an announcement that changes will be made to the policy.
Taking disruptive students at first glance sounds like a viable solution, but seeing the concrete rooms on television news stories and hearing that children had urinated in them and thrown furniture gave me the chills. It sounded more like a prison or mental hospital from the past than a .
Middletown school officials have now said they will only use this method if it part of an approved IEP plan and not at all for students without an IEP, which is a Individualized Education Program for students with special needs. A new area on the second floor will be modified as a safe area for students if needed. The rooms previously being used for time-outs will no longer be used for this purpose.
However, another article said the superintendent said these rooms were not being used for students with disabilities, which seemed to contradict what parents and other students were saying.
I read one column by a parent of a child with autism and she wrote about her son’s experience with similar rooms in other schools. She pointed out putting a child who has sensitivity issues into a room with bright lights, stark walls and no windows will only exacerbate the situation. Locking a child in a room and watching them “lose it” just doesn’t seem like it solves the problem.
The story made headlines around New England, when searched on Google more than 100 stories come up about this. There are stories on CNN and Dr. Drew Pinsky, a television host and practicing physician, discussed the topic on his HLN show with a pediatrician and parents.
The state departments of Children and Families and Education are investigating the matter. A parent group also has formed asking for a federal investigation into the situation.
One Middletown mother of an autistic child has created a petition addressed to mayor, which calls for the termination of the director and two supervisors of pupil services and special education at the Middletown Board of Education.
Click here to join those signing the petition.
A group of attorneys and advocates for children with disabilities filed a complaint Friday with the Office for Civil Rights of the U.S. Department of Education, charging that the practice of using the seclusion room chiefly or exclusively for children with special needs at Farm Hill School violates their civil rights.
Seclusion rooms are legal in Connecticut schools, and in other states, but there are specific rules and reporting regulations that are to be followed, and it doesn’t appear this was happening.
It is a sensitive issue, for parents of children in the school without behavioral issues who feel their , as well as for parents of children with special needs or behavior issues who have faced the consequences. Hopefully Connecticut can come up with a better solution than this.
About this column: Kate Carey-Trull lives in Broad Brook with her husband and their two children, ages 8 and 3. She has worked as a freelance writer for the last five years. Previously, she worked as a reporter and copy editor at the Norwich Bulletin. She is a member of the MOMS Club of Enfield, where she has served in various positions on the board, including membership vice president and administrative vice president.