School adds isolation room despite new law against 'seclusion cells'

School adds isolation room despite new law against 'seclusion cells' »Play Video
Cherry Park Elementary's new isolation room.

PORTLAND, Ore. – As of Sept. 1, it will be illegal for a school in Oregon to have a "seclusion cell" on campus, but one Portland school is adding an isolation room.

The room has been put in at Cherry Park Elementary School in Southeast Portland just in time for this school year. And since it's a room, not a seclusion cell, it meets even the strictest limits passed by Oregon's Legislature.

Cherry Park's isolation room is just behind the gym. It used to be the boy's locker room and shower.

Inside the room there's a light and ventilation. There's also an observation window next to the room's door.

The Legislature banned seclusion cells after committee testimony like this last February: "I mean, you have two adults dragging you into a room and locking the door behind you," Jared Harrison told lawmakers.

That legislation still allowed built-in seclusion rooms. Lawmakers wanted to limit those, too, but couldn't come up with language that wouldn't also ban other kinds of school rooms.

Rep. Sara Gelser, D-Corvallis, sponsored the new legislation. By phone Thursday night, she said schools adding new isolation rooms, like the one at Cherry Park Elementary, is a little concerning. But she's also worried that some school districts haven't yet posted reports about how and when isolation rooms are used.

"Whether or not the restraints, in particular, were applied by trained personnel, and if not, why not?" she said. "And how many injuries of staff and students were reported related to the use of seclusion and restraint?"

Tigard-Tualatin is one of the school districts that have posted its seclusion and restraint statistics. Last year, students were secluded or restrained 161 times – 22 of those were students put in seclusion rooms. That compares to 50 student seclusions the year before.

Meanwhile, KATU learned Pioneer School has still kept a seclusion area on its campus, although it hasn't officially determined if it's a "room" or a "cell". And it plans to keep it even though Gelser specifically wrote the bill so it would apply to Pioneer.

Portland Public Schools said it isn't sure the law applies to them. So in the meantime it won't put any children in the seclusion area until it hears from the Oregon Department of Education.

We started looking into the new seclusion room at Cherry Park after a viewer tipped us off with an email to newstips@katu.com.

Our coverage led to the new law in Oregon. To catch up on everything we've exposed this year about the isolation rooms, click here.