Authorities probe use of seclusion rooms for disabled

Reuters News
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Posted: Jan 31, 2012 5:08 PM
Authorities probe use of seclusion rooms for disabled

(Reuters) - Federal and state investigators are probing reports that disabled children at a public elementary school in Connecticut were locked in a room to control their behavior or as a punishment, officials said on Tuesday.

Farm Hill School, an elementary school in the city of Middletown, was accused of improper use of seclusion, according to officials from the U.S. Department of Education and state advocates for children and disabled people.

Jim McGaughey, executive director of state Office of Protection and Advocacy for Persons with Disabilities, said his investigators were looking into the reports that children with disabilities were inappropriately held in a seclusion room.

Seclusion is not considered an effective teaching strategy, he said, and it would only be used as a last resort if there was a very specific written behavior support plan for a certain child.

The Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights was also investigating, a federal spokesman said, and was trying to determine if the district's use of seclusion rooms discriminated against students with disabilities by treating them differently than other children or denying them an appropriate education.

Connecticut Child Advocate Jeanne Milstein, whose office was also investigating, said questions to be answered include whether such a room exists, what goes on inside, how children were selected for the time-out, and whether the school system was aware of what was happening.

"We are very concerned based on what we've heard to date," she said, adding that the investigation was launched after "various sources" brought the seclusion rooms to the attention of officials.

Messages left for the superintendent of Middletown Public Schools and the principal of the elementary school were not immediately returned.

(Reporting By Lauren Keiper; Editing by Cynthia Johnston)