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State Agency: Columbus Schools Misused Seclusion Rooms

A report by the Ohio Legal Rights Service says Columbus City Schools misused seclusion and restraint practices. The report from the state agency that advocates for the disabled follows a six-month investigation launched after the mother of an autistic student in Columbus schools complained that her son was forced into seclusion and left to lie in a puddle of his own urine, which led to an infection. Sue Tobin with the Ohio Legal Rights Service says she’s investigated the misuse of seclusion rooms before, but found some unexpected turns in her Columbus school visits.

You know that they had metal doors with foot latches and peepholes, I think that was a little bit of a surprise. We would expect such rooms to be more likely to be located in segregated programs for children with severe emotional disturbance but these were right in the middle of classrooms.

Tobin says the district has not kept records of its use of seclusion and restraint. Record keeping is one of the group’s foremost recommendations, as is increased training for staff. Columbus school officials say they’re still mulling over the report. District spokesman Jeff Warner says they provided 224 documents about 80 students, and were disappointed to see the report only used a small sample.

The other thing that strikes us is that the report fails to consider the draft policy and guidelines that were published by the Department of Education on Sept. 10th that would permit the continued use of restraint and seclusion in areas where there is an immediate threat of physical harm to the student or to others.

The Ohio Department of Education also received a copy of the report, and says it’s open to recommendations on how to frame its statewide seclusion and restraint policy. The Columbus City Schools have until mid October to formally respond to the report.