It’s time to end seclusion in Idaho schools

Today’s guest author is Tracie Boyer

Tracie Boyer is a mother and advocate in Idaho. On December 21st, she attended an Idaho State Board of Education meeting in Boise, Idaho, to share her story and encourage the members of the Board of Education to end the use of seclusion and address the issue of behaviorism in Idaho schools. What follows is the public comment she delivered at the meeting.

My husband and I adopted a baby boy from foster care who had been seriously abused from birth until he was three months old. He is now a sweet, attached 12-year-old boy. My son did pretty well in school until second grade when the work became a little harder, and he was expected to sit quietly and focus on his schoolwork. He would become disruptive, then get in trouble, which caused him to become defiant, and things would spiral. He started to have meltdowns and would cause room clears. I had him evaluated for an IEP and FBA with a BIP, and we moved him to a school that had a PBI program. He started at the new school on the first day of February in 3rd grade. I carefully explained his trauma history and his need to feel safe in order to be able to think to the PBI teacher.

She gave me a paper to sign asking whether or not I allowed them to use the seclusion room on him. I marked NO and signed it, and explained how putting him in there would re-traumatize him very badly.

If he could feel safe, he might have a chance to be successful in school. I made that very clear. Two weeks later, on Valentine’s Day, he was made to stay in from recess to finish a worksheet. He melted down and ended up lying on the ground tearing up his Valentines. He is a non-violent, “Freeze” kid and has never been a threat to himself or anyone else. He was then dragged to the padded room by the school psychologist and shut in. My son told me what happened, and I received two reports following the incident, neither of which mentioned anything about the padded room. From that day on, he slept all day, every day in the PBI room. He also started sleeping on the floor next to my bed every night. He slept there for a year and a half – until I told him that he would never go back to that school. He slept in his own bed that night. My son is not even a statistic because his seclusion was never reported.

Seclusion rooms are not the answer. They do not calm children.

I believe they are generally used punitively or because someone does not know what else to do. When the only tool you have is a hammer, suddenly everything looks like a nail. The focus should be on preventing the crisis in the first place by solving problems and teaching lagging skills. Behaviorism is a problem. My son was labeled “Attention Seeking” after a whole battery of tests. There was nothing scientific about that label, and I did not see any relation to the test results. There are more than four functions of behavior. In my son’s case, he has neurological, fear-based reactions that are involuntary, not trained behaviors. If the diagnosis is wrong, the treatment is wrong. In my son’s case, incorrectly trying to fix things with Behaviorism led to damage and, frankly, abuse. The same goes for PBIS programs. Rewards and punishments work best for the kids who do not need them. Not all kids have a good grasp on cause and effect. Please look into the work of Dr. Ross Greene, Dr. Mona Delahooke, and Dr. Lori Desautels. I have also included in my materials, a great explanation of the problems with Behaviorism, written by an autistic lady who grew up subjected to ABA therapy.

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