By Molly Hunter
Controversial seclusion rooms in local schools will soon be a thing of the past.
Iowa City School District Superintendent Stephen Murley sent parents an email Tuesday night saying the district has eliminated seven of its temporary seclusion rooms and plans to eliminate the rest by next fall.
In the email, Murley said the district has been reviewing seclusion rooms using the recommendations outlined by the Restraint and Seclusion Task Force.
A presentation given by the task force at the end of October reported there were 16 temporary seclusion rooms in active use in the district.
In his email to parents, Murley said the district plans to phase out all of its remaining temporary seclusion rooms by the start of the 2018-19 school year.
On Tuesday evening, the Iowa City School Board’s Policy and Governance Committee set the agenda items for its next meeting, including among an update on the district’s seclusion and restraint policy.
In an email to The Daily Iowan on Wednesday, Ruthina Malone, a board member who also serves on the Policy and Governance Committee, said she’s pleased to see the district taking steps to get rid of the “padded, plywood boxes” being used as seclusion rooms.
“I believe that this is a step in the right direction for all of our children and our community,” Malone said. “As our Special Education Director Lisa Glenn [continues] to work with families, her staff as well as other administrators, teachers and para-educators who are in the classrooms, I’m hopeful that the lines of communication will remain open so that our families and community can see that this is just one of many steps that are being taken.”
At the state level, the American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa has filed a petition with the Iowa Department of Education requesting the use of seclusion rooms and restraints be restricted in all Iowa’s public schools.
“The request is for both seclusion rooms and restraints on children used only in emergency situations to be no more restrictive than necessary, used only as a last resort,” said Veronica Lorson Fowler, the communications director for the ACLU of Iowa. “They should only be used when there’s no other alternative and the safety of the child or staff is at risk.”
Lorson Fowler said the use of restraints and seclusion rooms is a statewide concern.
“They’re being used around the state, so that’s why we’ve gone to the department of education,” Lorson Fowler said. “But that said … we are glad to see that the Iowa City schools are going to stop disciplining students using these so-called seclusion rooms.”
The petition the ACLU and several other attorneys filed with the Department of Education requires a response by Nov. 27.
“We have received the petition to … administrative rule, and we are working with petitioners and other youth advocates to explore options,” said Staci Hupp Ballard, the communications director at the Department of Education.