Isolation Rooms in Schools: Cruel or Calming? - Valley News Live - KVLY/KXJB - Fargo/Grand Forks

Isolation Rooms in Schools: Cruel or Calming?

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"This isn't a bashing of public schools, or teachers, or administration. This is bashing of the policy that is in place that puts your kid in a small isolated padded cell." That's what one West Fargo dad had to say as he speaks out about a controversial practice happening here in the valley.

They are called seclusion rooms - enclosed rooms where kids are sent to be alone after having an emotional outburst. The rooms can be found at public schools across the country, but there is also a national conversation over whether or not the rooms do more harm than good. 
That's the conversation Valley News Team's Eric Crest explores in this exclusive report.

We've all said it, 'kids will be kids,' but sometimes it's no secret that kids can get violent.

"He's flipped a table over, he's punched a teacher, thrown a pencil, thrown toys flipped chairs. So there's some issues that are evident. It's not like my kids perfect," explains John Mercer when describing his 6-year-old son.

Mercer's son goes to school at the Lodoen Kindergarten Center in West Fargo. When a student gets violent, or what a teacher might deem violent, a child can end up in a seclusion room.

"The seclusion room has been there since the school was built 20 years ago. It's used as a last resort for the safety of students and staff," says Betty Hanson the principle of Loeden Kindergarten Center in West Fargo.

"We do have seclusion rooms in some but not all of our buildings. I am familiar with them," adds the assistant superintendent of West Fargo Public Schools Beth Slette.

Mercer's son is admittedly a handful from time to time, but John Mercer found out his boy was getting put into the seclusion room on a more frequent basis recently and struggled with the theory and justification of it.

"They have protocols that they follow, but that doesn't mean that they are right," says Mercer.

Mercer says he was almost always contacted immediately by staff when his son ended up in the seclusion room. In fact, administration, Mercer and his ex-wife agreed on the plan to utilize this room when need be.  

"We always include parents in that conversation. And we develop a safety plan that may include a seclusion room. Only in the case that the child would hurt themselves or someone else," says Slette.

"What was I supposed to do? You're the professional telling me this is what I'm supposed to do with my child," adds Mercer.

Even if it's an infrequent practice at Lodoen Kindergarten Center, Mercer would like to see the practice stop.

"Very, very seldom... Only as a last resort," says Principle Hanson about the frequency of the rooms use.

"It's not used as a punishment, it's used as a place to keep a child safe until they calm down and regain composure," says Slette.

The fact that these rooms exist in the first place is a hard concept for one dad to grapple with.

"You wanna break your kids spirit? Go lock him in a room. There needs to be dialogue about this and it might take months and years to figure out a better alternative on a nation wide scale," says Mercer.

Some states have banned the use of seclusion rooms in schools. In Fargo Public Schools, seclusion rooms are not used, but instead officials tell us students are placed in a designated area or corner for the child to calm down. Adding that there are no locks on doors and no padded walls.

This conversation isn't just happening on the Valley News Live Facebook page, but at the congressional level, too. It's a conversation that could turn into the banning of seclusion rooms across the United States. 
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