ISBE bans use of isolation rooms immediately, orders investigations into practice

CENTRALIA — In response to a report released Tuesday from ProPublica and the Chicago Tribune exposing the use of isolation rooms and physical restraints being used in schools across Illinois, including at Bridges Learning Center in Centralia, Kaskaskia Special Education Director Cassie Clark released a statement.

Clark’s statement Wednesday says that their staff has and continues to go above and beyond to develop positive relationships with all of their students to create a positive learning environment. She says those positives are not openly portrayed in social media and are being actively overlooked in the current news cycle that is vilifying their staff unjustly.

The report from ProPublica, using documents secured from Bridges through a Freedom of Information Act request, showed that with only 65 students at Bridges Learning Center in Centralia, forced isolation was used 1,288 times in 15 months. That adds up to 86 times a month meaning the average student was placed in isolation 20 times in that time frame.

Clark says in her statement that KSED trains all staff to only use restraints or isolated timeout when students are putting themselves or others at risk and that those measures are never to be used as forms of discipline. She adds that KSED provides communication and documentation to parents in those situations as is consistent with the law.

However, response to the documents exposed in the ProPublica report was swift with the State Board of Education also releasing a statement Wednesday announcing the immediate ban of isolated seclusion, certain physical restraints, and ordering investigations into the practices.

The Governor’s Office has also announced it will file a complaint on behalf of all known cases of isolated seclusion to expedite the investigations. ISBE will then make determinations whether any educational entity violated state or federal special education requirements.

In her weekly message, State Board of Education Superintendent Carmen Ayala condemned the use of isolation and physical restraint exposed in the report.

Lawmakers also responded to the Tuesday report, with Northbrook Democrat Rep. Jonathan Carroll filing a bill to end the use of the isolation rooms.

Carroll told Politico that as a former special education teacher, he knows these children already feel isolated and that the focus should be on teaching coping strategies and making sure the children do not feel alone.

He said that by putting them in isolation, it’s reinforcing that they’re different and that his/her challenges are his/her fault when they are not and that we need to make sure children are safe and protected.

The 45-year-old lawmaker wrote on his own website today about his personal experience as a child with ADHD being locked in isolation timeouts. Carroll says he still has nightmares because of the treatment.

He says he can recall every detail from the smell, lighting, and texture of the carpeted walls.

Carroll says the treatment was and continues to be, beyond cruel, noting that we are using the same intervention on children that are used on our worst criminals.