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School 'Scream Rooms' Come Under Fire

Rooms used at a Conn. school to seclude students with disruptive behavior have raised some serious concerns with the Federal Education Office for Civil Rights.

The federal education oversight agency has opened an investigation against the Middletown Board of Education, charging  discriminated against students with disabilities.

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 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.

Preliminary data collected by the state Department of Education reveals that there were  during the 2009-10 school year, according to the New Haven Register.

Sue Donem January 31, 2012 at 06:48 PM
I'd love to hear a non-SPED teacher weigh in on this topic. I'm not saying Middletown was necessarily right (I don't have enough facts to judge either way), but am I the only one surprised by the statistic that there were over 18,000 reported (wonder how many unreported) "incidents of restraint or seclusion" in one academic year in CT? The investigation is looking to make sure that there was no discrimination against students with disabilities. I wonder how many students who had their education disrupted by the aforementioned 18,000 incidents would like to be able to claim that they are being denied an "appropriate education". .
Amo Probus February 01, 2012 at 12:42 AM
Scream rooms are nothing new...my parents had one 50 years ago whenever I brought home my report card...
Heather Borden Herve February 01, 2012 at 02:40 AM
TBOT, I know you're trying to add levity; unfortunately, it's not a laughing matter for the families of children who are treated as 'lesser than' in such an antiquated, punitive, non-compassionate manner. For Sue, what I wonder about is what kind of message teachers are teaching to typical students when they marginalize special needs students in the manner that isolation rooms do? There are educational methods much more compassionate than those used in Middletown's schools and elsewhere in CT, more effective, affirming methods to integrate students who learn in all sorts of ways. And part of helping model for those typical students about creating an inclusive, understanding community is not to discriminate against those facing more challenges. My children do not have special needs. However, they each have been enrolled in classrooms where they share amazing educational and life experiences with children of all, varied abilities. They are better human beings for it, and are learning just fine. Their education is more than 'appropriate.'

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