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Bellevue parents outraged over isolation rooms, other restraints in schools

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isolationBELLEVUE — In recent months, the use of isolation rooms in schools has outraged a lot of parents.

The rooms are used for special needs students who act out.

The Washington Legislature is requiring school districts to come up with policies on how to use restraints and isolation techniques. So the Bellevue School Board came up with a plan, but parents there say they need to go back to the drawing board.

“It’s going to kill somebody,” said parent Cathy McVay to the school board. “It’s going to hurt somebody. The long-term effects on these kids, it’s traumatizing.”

Parents are concerned about the vague language around the new policy, which includes not only the use of isolation rooms, but restraint techniques, including handcuffs, Tasers and pepper spray.

“We’re concerned about the safety and well-being of our precious children,” said parent Jennifer Carls.


According to the state, isolation and restraints should be used only if there is a clear and present danger to the child or other students, but the Bellevue plan states they can be used if there is unpredicted, spontaneous behavior.

One mother told the school board, “Putting in language like this will only give permission to some staff members to just do what’s convenient and not right.”

School board members explained the Bellevue plan is part of the state’s requirement.

“There was a policy missing and we needed to have something to bound these issues,” said Christine Chew, a school board member. “I know the comments we’ve heard tonight will affect what we’re doing.”

The comments from parents did, ultimately, have an effect.

The school board decided not to vote on the plan. Instead, they tabled it, and plan on discussing it some more over the summer before coming to a decision next fall.

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  • Evelyn

    If children are becoming so violent in the school as to need detention by force and being locked into a padded closet then they need to be removed from school. It is a sad state that okays a padded closet for punishment of a specific group of school children. If a child is out of control it needs to be stopped if anyone at all is threatened, yes. But use of tazers and closet cells is cruel and unprecedented behavior in the public school system. Return to the rules of disruptive children (special needs or not) being removed and banned from the school. If a child cannot behave and control outbursts of extreme emotion they should not be in public schooling. I repeat: disabled or not. School beyond being instructive and safe has been an issue for decades now. Secluded, padded closets and tazers have never been suggested in case a 'normal' child attacks someone, or draws a knife or draws a gun. So now it some suggest this cruel and unusual punishment be implemented for use on special program children? And then to add in pepper spray and handcuffs? And then it will eventually be used for all children who are disruptive, no matter their abilities. Be careful. Institutional control and lockup is not something for public schools.

    • Lee

      Special needs or not, it does matter especially if the school has a program for these kids. Everyone has the right to earn an education. What needs to happen is that these schools needs to be staffed with people who know how to teach these children that it's not okay to act like this and put the effort into teaching these policies instead of being lazy and just shoving them into secluded rooms. It's not the childs fault that they lack the knowledge of how to do these things and punishing children like this is not the answer.

      • Angie

        Unfortunately, in some cases the isolation rooms being used on special needs children has been warranted. They don't always understand that they are going to hurt themselves or others and have very violent outbursts. We didn't have padded rooms or restraints where I worked at, but I got injured by these students even though they weren't maliciously meaning to hurt me.. Unfortunately, most public schools are ill-equipped to deal with special needs kids and they can't just tell the parents their child can't be in school. "No Child Left Behind" made sure of that, we had students who could do nothing but sit in a wheelchair drooling on themselves. They couldn't talk or any other forms of communication, we couldn't teach them anything, but they had to be in school.

  • Pescitor

    As a parent of a child which has needed to be restrained and isolated to avoid harming himself, I absolutely understand the need for school staff and administrators to have these tools when my child is having that kind of melt-down. However, we also spent the time to develop detailed plans with the district that specified the kinds of behaviors under which these methods could be used, which specific staff members could do this and what specific training those staff persons needed. It also included specific requirements about notifying us within 30 minutes if our child was in isolation.

    More importantly, these detailed plans also included an analysis of potential trigger events that might lead to these behaviors and plan for how to TEACH our child to recognize when they were getting worked-up so they would LEARN to better self-regulate. It's taken 3 years but we have gone from 2-3 isolation incidents per month to one this entire year.

    The present issue is related to a new state law that requires parents to be notified when these techniques are used on their kids. As surprising as that might seem, unless a parent had an Aversive Intervention Plan that required notice, the school was not required to mention to parents that their child had been restrained. This lack of notice has allowed some schools to abuse this tool and isolate students in appropriately. Unfortunately, the data also shows that children of color are subjected to this in disproportionate numbers. This issue is NOT isolated to Bellevue schools.

    This issue is way more complex and nuanced than a 2 minute news story can adequately cover. I am hopeful that Q13 would devote the time and resources to a much deeper dive on this issue so that this important conversation between parents, teachers, district administrators, school boards, and our elected officials can be elevated, more transparent, and extended. We own this to ALL of our children.

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