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Iowa ACLU wants new rules on schools use of seclusion rooms

IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) — The American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa wants the state to change rules regarding public schools’ use of padded seclusion rooms and physical restraints.

The ACLU and six outside attorneys recently filed a petition with the Iowa Education Department asking that it ensure seclusion and physical restraints are used only for emergencies and as a last resort, and are never used to punish children.

The request comes after a department review found that students were occasionally sent to seclusion rooms in at least one school district for minor infractions, such as stepping out of line.

“Iowa must update its rules to reflect growing consensus that seclusion and restraints should not be used to discipline or punish children,” Daniel Zeno, policy counsel for the ACLU of Iowa, said in a statement.

Petitioners also highlight data from the U.S. Department of Education that shows children of color or those with disabilities are disproportionally subjected to seclusion rooms.

Iowa is one of only five states that allow seclusion or restraints when there’s no physical threat, according to the ACLU. Twenty-nine states have banned the use of seclusion or restraints to discipline or punish a child.

The petition was filed last week, less than a month after the Iowa Education Department reviewed more than 450 incidents of seclusion involving more than 60 students in the Iowa City Community School District from Dec. 22, 2015, to Dec. 21, 2016.

The review determined the district was in violation of state and federal law when, on occasion, students were sent to seclusion rooms for minor infractions, including having an bad attitude, being out of instructional control or using foul language.

Iowa City schools created a task force to address the concerns about the seclusion rooms. The group recommended earlier this month that the district reduce its use of the roughly 6-by-6-foot padded, wooden rooms and stop referring to them as “time-out rooms.”

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Information from: Iowa City Press-Citizen, http://www.press-citizen.com/

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