Longview school district suspends use of 'isolation booths'

Longview school district suspends use of 'isolation booths' »Play Video
One of the photos posted on Facebook shows the isolation box at Mint Valley Elementary School in Longview, Wash.

LONGVIEW, Wash. – District officials at Longview Public Schools are suspending the use of so-called “isolation booths” after news of their presence came to light on Facebook earlier this week.

District spokeswoman Sandy Catt said the decision to suspend the use of the padded rooms came because the district is investigating three complaints about their use. She would not provide specifics. "We want everyone to know we are taking all of the comments seriously," Catt said. "We want to make sure there wasn’t any inappropriate use."

"The room’s use has been suspended," Catt added.  "Instead, we’re trying to meet those student’s needs in other ways. We’re going to have to work closely with the families to make sure that the appropriate responses are provided for those children."

KATU first reported about the isolation room at Mint Valley Elementary School on Tuesday night. School officials said they use the room with eight or nine special education students to help calm them down.

In the meantime, Catt said the school will use alternate “aversion therapy” methods for special needs students who are not behaving. Other tactics include moving the student into a different room, clearing out the classroom until the child calms down or having an adult hold the child still to calm him or her.

Several experts told KATU that isolation rooms like the one at Mint Valley can be valuable tools, but only if used properly.

Washington law says school districts may use isolation rooms, although they must document each case.

In Oregon, schools were recently given the option to use seclusion rooms. An Oregon Department of Education spokesman said seclusion can only be used when other methods have been exhausted and a student escalates to a point where he or she could hurt somebody.

Mother supports isolation booth

We've heard from several parents upset with the fact such isolation rooms exist, but the technique has supporters, as well.

Niki Favela has an autistic daughter who uses the booth.

"She would use the isolation booth when she felt she was out of control, needed to calm herself down," Favela said. "She would go in there on her own."

Favela said her daughter has difficulties coping with the outside world and sometimes needs a break.

"That room has helped her learn how to self-regulate, self-soothe and how to calm herself down," she said.

Favela said she and her husband are disappointed the district has suspended using the box..

"The staff are so careful at showing us the isolation booth, going over all the rules, talking to us in depth about the use of it and signing the aversion plan," she said. "It's hard to believe they would use it any other way."

ABC News investigation

ABC News investigative reporter Brian Ross has also been looking into reports around the country of schools using harsh methods to restrain students with special needs.

He spoke to KATU about his investigation.

"Increasingly students that are having emotional difficulties and autism are being put into mainstream schools and teachers all too often have not been trained in techniques to deal with these students when they act up or don't follow instructions,"  Ross said.

Ross said only 17 states, including Oregon, have specific laws that restrict harsh treatment. Because of that, federal lawmakers are now considering a national standard on how to treat special needs students.

"The restrictions in some states require parents to be notified, but in most states that is not the law," he said. "Schools use these seclusion rooms, use all kinds of restraints, pinning students to the ground and sometimes don't even tell the parents it's happened."

In the Longview case, school officials said they only used the seclusion room with prior permission from parents, although one mother we talked to said her son was put in the seclusion booth without her prior permission.

"I think parents have to question every school where their children go just to know how do you deal with this?" Ross said. "I think every parent has a right to know that."

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