New Hanover Schools Board of Education is considering a policy update to its restraint and seclusion policy. This comes after nearly two years of public outrage about the use of seclusion. While it sounded promising that an update is being proposed, the update, while perhaps well-intentioned, is not what is needed. The proposal is to eliminate the use of seclusion rooms but not eliminate the use of seclusion. I am concerned about the unintended consequences of such a policy. Below is a letter sent to the Board of Education asking them to reconsider the proposed policy.
Board Chair Kraybill, Vice-Chair Walker, and members of the Board of Education,
About 18 months ago, parents and advocates began to raise awareness about the use of seclusion in New Hanover County public schools. Over time more parents and advocates joined the effort to reduce the use of physical restraint and eliminate the use of seclusion in New Hanover County schools. Community members and advocates spoke at the Board of Education meetings and shared concerns. The issue gained the attention of the local media, who wrote several stories about the subject.
I have had the opportunity to meet with several members of the New Hanover County Board of Education to discuss the topic. In June, I had the opportunity to meet with Julie Varnam and other members of the New Hanover County public schools team. I know that Ms. Varnam and the Board of Education members take this issue seriously. Of course, there are good reasons to take the issue seriously. The use of seclusion can lead to significant trauma and is likely to lead to increased behaviors in the classroom. The use of seclusion is discriminatory, which has come to light through several recent Department of Justice investigations on the use of seclusion and restraint. The federal government is considering a complete prohibition on the use of seclusion in all public schools across the country. Some districts have even been sued over their use of seclusion. It is time for New Hanover County to be proactive and show leadership. It is time to ban the use of seclusion in all New Hanover County schools.
When I heard recently that the Board of Education had introduced a proposed policy related to seclusion, I had high hopes. Then as I reviewed the proposed policy, I found it perplexing. It sounds like New Hanover County proposed to ban seclusion rooms but not the act of seclusion. Let me explain why I think that is the wrong approach. It is the act of seclusion, not the room, that is the issue. Let’s explore this a bit.
The calm room, the quiet room, the blue room, the cool-down room, the reset room, and the resource room are some of the names used for seclusion rooms. Sometimes seclusion rooms are padded. Sometimes seclusion rooms are made of cinder blocks. Sometimes seclusion rooms are constructed of plywood. Sometimes seclusion rooms are entire classrooms. Some seclusion rooms have small windows, and some have cameras. Some seclusion rooms have subdued lighting, and most have no windows. Some seclusion rooms have pressure-sensitive locks, and some have no locks at all. The rooms might be blue, brown, purple, white, or gray. The practice of seclusion does not require a specific type of room. Seclusion only requires an area where a young child is confined alone, against their will, and prevented from leaving.
What makes a seclusion room a seclusion room is its use. If the room or area is used for seclusion, it is a seclusion room. We define seclusion as the involuntary confinement of a student alone in a room or area from which they are physically or verbally prevented from leaving. There may even be scenarios where the student is not actually alone, but they are functionally alone. For example, a student could be confined to a room or area with one or more adults practicing planned ignoring or using their bodies to prevent egress; this could be considered seclusion. It is the act of secluding a child that matters, not the room or area where it occurs. So prohibiting seclusion rooms is not the answer to stop seclusion.
We recommend the following change to policy 4302-R:
Rather than, “As of the 2023-24 school year, rooms designed specifically for seclusion will no longer be operational for seclusion.”
We suggest, “As of the 2023-24 school year, seclusion will be prohibited in all New Hanover County public schools.”
If you have specific concerns preventing you from prohibiting the use of seclusion, those concerns should be explored. At this time, Georgia, Hawaii, Texas, Nevada, Pennsylvania, Florida, and Maryland prohibit the use of seclusion. Many schools around the country do not use the outdated and harmful practice of seclusion. I understand that New Hanover County public schools are currently implementing training in the Collaborative and Proactive Solutions approach, which will have you well-prepared to end the practice of seclusion at the start of the 2023-24 school year. This approach has been used in school districts across the nation to reduce and eliminate restraint and seclusion.
Thank you for your time and attention to this critical issue. If we can do anything to support your decision-making process, do not hesitate to reach out. We would be happy to discuss your concerns and work towards solutions so you can entirely prohibit this harmful practice.
Founder and Executive Director
Alliance Against Seclusion and Restraint