Update 2:45 p.m.
Julie Swanson, a Special Education Advocate from Durham said Tuesday afternoon that she is pleased that the U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights has opened an investigation into 's use of so-called "scream rooms".
Swanson, who holds a private practice in Durham, is part of a group of 19 lawyers and advocates that filed a complaint with the OCS earlier this month on behalf of studens at the school.
"What always troubles me is when there are those parents that don't understand what their rights are, or perhaps don't have the means to have somebody help them advocate what's appropriate," Swanson said.
"By the time things had gotten to the level that resulted in what's transpired in Middletown, in these "scream rooms" something is going very wrong. It should never get to this."
Swanson said she works with families of special needs children all across the state, including in Middletown.
"I'm very familiar with what it takes to put an appropriate intervention plan together," she said.
The civil rights office of the U.S. Department of Education is investigating whether 's use of so-called "scream rooms" for students with disabilities was discriminatory.
The complaint was filed Jan. 12 with The U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights by Special Education Advocate Diane Willcutts of Education Advocacy, LLC and Attorney Jennifer D. Laviano of Sherman after seclusionary or "scream" rooms, used for children with behavioral issues, came to light.
On Jan. 27, the OCR requested information from Middletown Superintendent of Schools Michael Frechette, according to Civil Rights Attorney Donna L. Russell, and spoke with Board of Ed Attorney Christine Chinni.
The investigation will seek to determine “whether the school’s use of seclusion room(s) denied students with disabilities a free appropriate public education” and “whether the school’s use of seclusion room(s) discriminated against students with disabilities by treating them differently from nondisabled students,” the OCR letter states.
“There were no guarantees that OCR would open an investigation, and I am very happy that this is moving forward,” Willicutt says. “The situation in Middletown has put a spotlight on a longtime, widespread problem. People outside of the disabilities community are shocked that scream rooms exist, thinking that Farm Hill Elementary School is somehow uniquely troubled. But students with disabilities are locked in seclusion rooms around the state every school day.”
Willcutts hopes Farm Hill School parents will contact her by email to offer their statements.
“The situation in Middletown is horrific, but maybe we can use this to make a difference for all children with disabilities,” Willcutts says.
The OCR joins three other investigations in Middletown: the Office of Protection and Advocacy for Persons with Disabilities, the , and the state Department of Education.