Thursday, December 3, 2009

MD: Opionion, Seclusion rooms "useful and effective option"

NOTE: The following opinion was posted on at on December 3, 2009.

While we disagree that "FCPS has been deliberate and cautious about creating and using these rooms," it is always helpful to read other points of view.

Some parents of FCPS students may have been taken aback to learn that "seclusion rooms" are present and being used at some county schools.

According to News-Post education reporter Marge Neal's Nov. 27 story, the rooms are used to isolate students who are experiencing emotional or behavioral stress that may be a concern for themselves and others.

Decades ago, students with emotional, cognitive or behavioral issues were often educated at separate institutions or were highly segregated from the rest of the students at a school.

In recent times, however, the trend has been to mainstream such children as much as possible under the theory that being in the standard school atmosphere and interacting with a wide range of other students is helpful in both educating and socializing them. We believe this is true and of great help to special-needs students' progress.

Practically, however, this is a big, complicated and expensive challenge for public schools. For instance, there are a number of children with autism or Asperger syndrome attending county public schools. Because of emotional, social or cognitive issues, many of these children require special staff, special learning spaces and curriculum, and special handling.

In some cases, special-needs children may even require a place to defuse or work through a traumatic episode they are experiencing at school.

According to Neal's story, FCPS has been deliberate and cautious about creating and using these rooms. FCPS said it has followed the Code of Maryland regulations, which provides the legal definition and authority for the use of seclusion spaces. The rooms are specially constructed, monitored, and used for short intervals and only when deemed necessary. Parents must also provide written approval for use by their children.

Karen Williams is a licensed clinical social worker at Lewistown Elementary School, one of the county schools that has a seclusion room. She notes that students themselves sometimes "self-advocate" to be placed in the room to decompress in a controlled, stimulus-free atmosphere.

Williams aptly sums up the concerns and value of this resource, saying, "The concept of seclusion and restraint always makes people nervous ... and it should. It's a very serious intervention, and should only be used to match the level of seriousness of the behavior being disciplined."

She went on to say, "We employ this tool in a professional, appropriate and positive manner. It's a necessary thing at times."

As in anything else, the tools to do a job well must be suited to the task at hand. Despite the negative connotation some may have of them, seclusion rooms appear to be a useful and effective option when utilized appropriately and responsibly.

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