Monday, December 16, 2013
The New York Daily News reports that KIPP Star Washington Elementary Charter School has repeatedly used a padded cell to hold a kindergarten and a first grade boy in time out for 15 to 20 minute stretches. The boys' parents say their children have subsequently experienced anxiety attacks. One boy's anxiety reaction to being in the cell was reportedly so severe that that he was removed from the room and taken to the hospital.
Although the notion of putting children in a padded cell--particularly ones so young--is shocking to most, the question of whether it is legal is not as clear cut. Some states, like Washington, for instance, specifically include isolation rooms in the list of the state's permissible disciplinary measures. See, e.g., Wash. Admin. Code § 180–40–235. In the context of special education, several parents have brought suit against school districts for their use of isolation cells. The results have been mixed. Most courts appear willing to sanction the use of isolation in theory, as a means of allowing kids to cool off and not hurt themselves or others. See, e.g., Melissa S. v. School Dist. of Pittsburgh, 183 Fed.Appx. 184 (3rd Cir. 2006); Payne v. Peninsula School Dist., 653 F.3d 863 (9th Cir. 2011). But when the isolation rooms have been used purely as punishment devices, some courts have been willing to intercede. See, e.g., CJN v. Minneapolis Public Schools, 323 F.3d 630, (8th Cir. 2003). In short, the limited use of isolation to allow a student to cool off is probably legal, even if it is in a closed room, but the use of isolation as a means of punishment may cross the line. We will have to wait for more facts to determine which way KIPP uses its rooms.