Is solitary confinement in schools ever OK?

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There’s a good chance that if you grew up in the ’90s you remember the famous scene in “Matilda” with Principal Trunchbull’s “chokey.” It’s a memorable scene in the children’s movie because it seems so far from real life. But is it?

Some schools in Iowa are now adopting solitary confinement as a method of disciplining children who act out. While the six foot by six foot unfinished pine boxes lack the jutting nails and cold metal a la Trunchbull, the “seclusion enclosures” are fitted with padded walls and a door that can only be opened from the outside.

While the use of these enclosures do not require parental consent, there is a rule that requires the school contact the parents that same day. How much time a child spends in the room is determined by the teacher in charge, however with the approval of administration, the amount of time can be more than one hour.

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Tammy Mims, former resident of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, told the Progressive a child in which she is the legal guardian was once locked inside a make-shift enclosure for an undetermined amount of time. When the school reached out to Mims, she said she could hear the girl screaming in the background.

“If I was to do what they did, it would be child abuse,” she said. “Why is it OK for the school district to do that to a child?”

The school has admitted that since this incident they have made changes to their procedures.

“Prior to the incident last April, the room had been used over the years for storage and as a meeting location for teachers and students… proactive measures that were taken after the incident in the spring to review our procedures and practices,” said Akwi J. Nji, director of communications for Cedar Rapids Community School District.

The state of Iowa allows seclusion as a form of discipline – so long as there is no threat to a child’s physical safety. This type of punishment has been banned in 29 other states.

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The controversial method of punishment is receiving a lot of pushback from attorneys and residents alike. One school board member speaks often about the use of seclusion enclosures, calling them little dungeons.

“The physical nature of these boxes is pretty disturbing,” said Chris Liebig.

The time-out rooms run a gamut of controversy, with Liebig highlighting the main concern of most parents in the school district.

“No matter what kind of experience it is and no matter how palatable you can make it, they’re not getting an education when they’re in the seclusion box.”

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