The Iowa City school district has announced that it will do away with its temporary seclusion rooms. We're glad to see this first step in the right direction, but want to see the district stop using them altogether, except in very limited and specific instances. We also want to the Iowa Department of Education will take the next step and change its rules for restraints and seclusion rooms for Iowa public school children.

In June, the ACLU of Iowa; Nathan Kirstein, attorney at Disability Rights Iowa; Len Sandler, Clinical Professor at the University of Iowa Law Clinic; and private attorneys Mary Richard, Edie Bogaczyk, David Roston, and Curt Sytsma; filed a Petition for Rulemaking with the Iowa Department of Education. That petition asks the department to revise the Iowa Administrative Code chapter on the use of seclusions rooms and physical restraints in schools. Seclusion rooms and restraints have been criticized as being used too widely and for punishment of children, especially those with disabilities and African-Americans.

At Pierce Elementary in Cedar Rapids, for example, an 8-year-old girl was shut into the seclusion room—shown here and which apparently also contains an electrical breaker box—for "crying too much." Her guardian says she was not contacted.

The request asks for new rules for Iowa schools on the use of seclusion and physical restraints:

  • Are used only emergency situations
  • Are no more restrictive than necessary
  • Are used only as a last resort
  • Are never used for discipline or punishment of children

Iowa’s rules on the use of seclusion and restraints are harsher than most other states. In fact, only four other states (Arkansas, Illinois, Montana, and New York) still permit the use of seclusion when no person’s physical safety is threatened. In comparison, 29 states have banned the use of seclusion and restraints to discipline or punish a child.

In the Iowa City school district especially, the use of seclusion rooms and physical restraints on school children has been a topic of public concern.

Daniel Zeno, policy council for the ACLU of Iowa, said, “Iowa must update its rules to reflect growing consensus that seclusion and restraints should not be used to discipline or punish children. Children should only be subjected to these practices in emergencies and when there are no other alternatives.”

Research shows that subjecting children to seclusion for discipline or to punish them has significant negative consequences for student learning and success. In addition, these practices can result in physical or psychological injury to children.

It’s further concerning that children of color and children with disabilities disproportionately are subjected to these outdated and damaging practices.

U.S. Department of Education data show significant racial disparities in the use of seclusion and restraints. In addition, that data show that children with disabilities are far more likely to subjected to seclusion or restraints than other children.

“Iowa has far too many racial disparities in school discipline and in the juvenile delinquency and criminal justice systems. We must work to end these disparities so that all Iowa children have a fair chance. The proposed rules would be an important step in the right direction to lessen racial disparities and disparities with respect to children with disabilities,” Zeno said.

The Department of Education is due to respond to the petition by November 27, 2017. 

To see the petition and two accompanying exhibit documents, click here.