Jan 19 2020, Cedar Rapids (IA) Gazette: Student seclusion reports kept secret by Cedar Rapids, Iowa City school districts https://www.thegazette.com/subject/news/education/school-seclusion-restraint-cedar-rapids-iowa-city-school-districts-20200119 Cedar Rapids elementary school students were held in seclusion rooms or physically restrained 237 times in the first month of this school year — more than 10 times a day and more than four times as much as in the first month of the 2015-2016 school year. But the Cedar Rapids Community School District will not disclose information showing why students were secluded or restrained, so it’s impossible for the public to know if these practices are being used as intended — a last resort to prevent students from hurting themselves or others — or as discipline for lesser infractions. Nor will the public know the reason behind the leap from 59 incidents in the first month of school in 2015. “We would like to know what is happening in our schools in terms of conduct that can be traumatic,” said Mary Richard, a Coralville lawyer who in 2017 filed a state complaint on behalf of a Cedar Rapids Pierce Elementary third-grader held in an unauthorized seclusion room because she wouldn’t stop crying…. Both school districts, serving more than 30,000 students combined, say the reports are confidential records that can’t be made public — even if the specific student information is blacked out. That stance is a reversal of the districts’ decision in 2016 to release the redacted reports to The Gazette. School seclusion has been a lightning rod in recent years as more parents learn about 6-by-6 foot rooms with padded walls used to contain overwrought students in schools across Iowa. For more than a year, the Iowa Department of Education has been revising Chapter 103 of Iowa’s Administrative Rules governing how seclusion and restraint are to be used in schools…. The Gazette’s 2016 review of more than 125 seclusion and restraint reports from Cedar Rapids and Iowa City showed most elementary students were put into seclusion for violent behavior that included kicking, biting, hitting and throwing items that could harm others. But the reports also revealed occasions when staff shuttered kids for non-violent acts like refusing to trace in pencil, stepping out of line at recess and pouting…. When the Chicago Tribune and ProPublica last fall published similar reports from Illinois public schools, the impact was nearly immediate: Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker issued an emergency order to end the use of school seclusion, calling the isolation of students “appalling.” Some Illinois lawmakers want to ban seclusion nationwide. Seclusion reports also help parents and community members understand the challenges teachers face, often in classrooms crowded with 30 or 40 students, to maintain a safe space where everyone can learn. Teacher and staff injuries that involved students rose 88 percent, from 226 to 425, in the past five years in the Des Moines Public Schools, the Des Moines Register reported in November. Reporter Lee Rood cited reports of a middle-school girl forcing a classmate to the floor and stomping on him, a student threatening to stab a principal with a knife and two girls assaulting another student and then punching a staff member before running through the halls screaming profanities. Sen. Zach Wahls, D-Coralville, who serves on the state Senate Education Committee, said many schools struggle when they don’t have adequate state funding to hire teachers, paraeducators and nurses. … Public response Janet Godwin, president of the Iowa City School Board, had little to say about whether the redacted seclusion reports should be public….
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