By Addison Martin
Concerned local parents and caregivers gathered at the repair shop of Iowa City School Board member Phil Hemingway Thursday to discuss problems parents see at schools in the Iowa City School District.
Heather Young, Nathalie Cruden, Katherina Litchfield, and Lee Anne Logan were present to express their concerns.
Young, the grandmother of a 5-year-old preschool student in the School District, said she fears for her grandchild’s transition into kindergarten next year. Her granddaughter is a student with nonverbal autism.
Her main concern, she said, was the use and misuse of the isolation boxes or seclusion rooms in the district. Although these boxes are not outlawed at the federal or state level, there have been reports of children dying, and a report in the U.S. Department of Education urges districts not to use the boxes.
“What we have here in Iowa is a super-broad state regulation that basically says, ‘We’re gonna give you the bare minimum of regulations, but we’re going to leave it up to the districts to make some rules’… the problem is, here in Iowa City, they never did anything, there is no policy beyond the state … any child can be put in the box at any age for any reason,” Young said.
The seclusion rooms are made of plywood and recycled tires. Some of the boxes or rooms are extra closets that are converted into the isolation boxes, but some are located directly in the classroom. Because of the lack of regulations, any child can be put in the boxes regardless of age or disabilities.
Other concerns voiced were the recent pay raises for Superintendent Stephen Murley. Hemingway said it is difficult to make big changes with the way the board dynamics currently work.
“When you go against the status quo, the status quo pushes back,” he said.
The parents and community members in attendance voiced concerns about getting the attention of the board and the superintendent, and that while these issues have been in the public since the beginning of this school year, they do not feel like progress is being made.
“We need new blood in the special-education department … if we do not address the leadership, these problems are not going to get solved,” Hemingway said.
Some schools in the district, thanks to local parents, have been able to do away with the seclusion rooms completely and provide quiet place for children to calm down. These schools have comfortable rooms for children who have emotional meltdowns or posing threats to themselves, other students or staff. Young said this should be the norm in the district.
“There should be a quiet safe space in every building, for any child,” she said. “Because if any child can be thrown in these boxes, which they can, than any child should be able to say ‘I am super stressed. I need a quiet break.’ ”
The next action these parents said they plan to take is to keep bringing this information to the public and making sure the School Board and the school administration is aware that they are unhappy with the way things are working and the lack of progress in fixing the problems.
“I don’t think it’s about shame necessarily; I think it’s about education of the public,” Lee Ann Logan said.