Doors of seclusion rooms come off; their future remains unclear

Doors of seclusion rooms come off; their future remains unclear »Play Video

PORTLAND, Ore. – The doors of seclusion rooms came off Tuesday at Southeast Portland’s Pioneer School after legislators urged school officials to comply with a new law prohibiting them.

Even with the doors removed, the school district maintains the rooms are OK because they are not technically seclusion cells.

Portland Public Schools is waiting for an inspection and conclusion by the Oregon Department of Education on whether the school is complying with the law. State officials will visit the school Thursday.

Pioneer’s principal offered insight into the reasoning behind the seclusion rooms and the challenges educators face trying to teach students with severe behavior disorders.

Principal Michael Laframboise said a student would only end up in one of the rooms if he or she was out of control, kicking, punching or biting for a prolonged period of time.

The student would be closely watched while in the room and let out as soon as he or she calmed down, he said.

“We often will get kids who are discharged from those programs, not because they’ve met their treatment goals, but because their insurance has run out. Or they’re at their wit’s end and don’t know what to do,” Laframboise said. “Because we’re a public school … we try to serve all corners.”

The school used to have special certification as a mental health treatment facility. But budget cuts forced the school to lose its staff psychiatrist. School officials hoped students could get treatment privately.

"Clearly that is not correct. Our kids struggle to see a psychiatrist every three months," Laframboise said. "And if they were to miss an appointment, the clock resets itself. There's just not enough mental health resources out there for children. It's a sad state of affairs."

The principal said each student has a plan in place to help them calm down without getting to the point of needing to be put in a seclusion room.

And the principal stressed that it is a seclusion room – not a cell. The new law addresses cells, which are defined as free-standing self-contained units.

Pioneer’s spaces are rooms built into the structure and sharing walls with other rooms.

“We see them as seclusion rooms; someone else sees them as seclusion cells,” Laframboise said. “We will let someone else make that decision. We are not using the room now.”

The seclusion rooms won't be used this school year. Their fate rests in the hands of the Oregon Department of Education, which will inspect them and decide whether they are lawful.