Using Federal Stimulus $$$ to Construct Seclusion Areas

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A Wisconsin school district has decided to use federal stimulus dollars to construct “seclusion areas” in its schools.  The decision is opposed by those working to end such practices for students with disabilities. The School Board voted in favor of using the funds for this purpose on December 14,  the vote coming just after Congressman Miller introduced new federal legislation on December 9 – the Prevent Harmful Restraint and Seclusion in Schools Act. Wisconsin DPI will review the plan.

The Wisconsin district’s assistant superintendent of elementary and middle school services said, “The seclusion areas would be part of existing special-education classrooms, providing an area where disruptive students can try to gain control.  Segregation areas also would be created to give students time-out areas within special-education classrooms where they can settle down when they become agitated.”

The district explains these “seclusion” rooms would not have doors, but use walls and windows to isolate students from the rest of the class.

“…state Rep. Sandy Pasch (D-Whitefish Bay), who introduced legislation this year restricting the use of seclusion in schools, called the district’s plan an “unfortunate” use of stimulus dollars.

The money would be better spent training teachers (emphasis added) on methods of controlling special-education student behavior without removing kids from their peers, she said.

“If you build a room, I think there’s a message that, ‘That room is there, use it,'” Pasch said.”

In April this year, Disability Rights/Wisconsin released Out of Darkness…Into the Light: Report Released on Seclusion and Restraint of Wisconsin Children. Read more about the 2009 report on Seclusion and Restraint.

Concerns About “Unlocked” Seclusion

COPAA’s (Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates) Jessica Butler addresses the concern about placing children in areas and situations that are not locked, but may be blocked by furniture, where children cannot exit.  “A child who uses a wheelchair but cannot operate it or a child with other motor disabilities may even be secluded in a room that is wide open. Children in this kind of space or room are at the same risk as children in locked seclusion. Schools could put children in these spaces for any reason, not report it to parents, and no one is required to watch or monitor the child to keep her safe.”

Ms. Butler recommends that Congress amend the newly proposed legislation to apply to “unlocked” seclusion areas. Read the analysis of the proposed legislation and what it means for children with disabilities in Preventing Harmful Restraint and Seclusion in Schools Act, by Jessica Butler. Find out how you can contact Congress with your concerns.

Find more info about the Wisconsin school’s plan in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel at

  1. David that is sad to hear about kiddos with Autism Spectrum Disorders (not autistic, remember person first language). I find that is also a difficult group to work with or provide consultation about at school. In a lot of cases I would argue the behavior is willful for those kiddos. The problem is many staff may see some behaviors as willfully disrespectful, when really the behavior has some purpose for the child. In the case of children with ASDs the purpose is often communicative. Anywho I have gotten off topic…

  2. The worst abuses that I have seen as an advocate center around children with Autistic Spectrum disorder. When the child starts to stress, the district sees this as willful behavior and responds as such.
    Instead of de-escalating the situation, it spirals out of control and then they resort to restraint and then seclusion, and in some cases call their “resource officers” who file criminal charges against the child.
    Once the juvenile justice system is involved here in Arkansas, the children and the families no longer have even the basic rigts allowed an adult in the legal system.
    All too often the districts are using the restraint and seclusion system instead of proper intervention techniques, and when that doesn’t force the child into compliance, they resort to the juvenile justice system to remove their problem for them.

  3. it is obvious that none of you have ever had a young child completely tear up a classroom, destroy materials, and have his/her non-disabled peers have to evacuate their classroom because of this child’s behaviors. while seclusion is not the final answer, it is a good stopgap. other alternatives are to send the child home with their parents or caregivers, calling the police and having the child removed. for those who cannot refernece what a child out of control is like, try reasoning with an angry drunk some time. i am mandt trained, but do not like to use it because it is ineffective, but how do you calm down a child so that they other 20 or se non-disabled peers can get their education. ty

  4. It is entirely possible that the school district was going to provide behavior management training, so I would not be so quick to assume they did not consider that Jan.

    It is certainly a touchy use of federal stimulus funds, but for a school to safely have the last resort option of seclusion available, an adequate space for it in the school is crucial. I would agree that it was probably not the best decision to attempt to put stimulus funds towards that purpose though. I agree with Pasch’s message of a seclusion area sending the message that it should be used. That is an unavoidable side-effect however. In extreme cases seclusion or restraint is a necessity for safety, so I don’t think it will disappear. HOWEVER, better behavior management and crisis prevention training is needed for teachers nationwide for all kids as Jan said.

  5. This is sick and really shows that there was not ANY thought put into how districts & states could use these dollars.
    I agree this district and millions more should have been made to use these dollars for training ALL school staff in Behavior Management. It would not only have helped with Spec Ed kids but all students.

  6. I am glad to see that the proposal to build seclusion areas has been denied, as well as to see the proposed legislation. However–these must be regarded merely as stop-gap measures. I am well aware of how manipulative school systems can become when they lose a method they have relied upon. For instance–will demands to parents to come get their child take the place of seclusion? Will repeated incidents be used to build a case for highly restrictive environments or home instruction?

    We need to become equally vigilant in demanding that teachers and districts are properly prepared to maintain orderly behavior amongs ALL students in ways that do not rely on seclusion or restraint.

  7. Update: 01/08/10

    The Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction has rejected the Greenfield School District’s plan to use federal stimulus dollars to construct seclusion areas for students with disabilities and informed districts statewide that federal special-education funds should not be used for such purposes.

    Information sent out by the DPI on Thursday referenced “the federal discussion and possible legislation regarding the use of seclusion” as the reason why the state would not approve requests to use money from the Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act or the recovery act to construct or remodel seclusion rooms. DPI spokesman Patrick Gasper said the agency also had informed Greenfield district officials it would not approve the use of the federal funds to construct the rooms they had requested.

    Read the article State rejects Greenfield seclusion rooms for students with disabilities

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