The Illinois State Board of Education on Wednesday announced an emergency action to stop the use of isolated seclusion in Illinois schools.
The move comes one day after a joint investigation by the Chicago Tribune and ProPublica Illinois revealed tens of thousands of cases in which schools put students into seclusion, often without any safety reason for doing so.
“The practices of time out and physical restraint have been misused and overused to a shocking extent; this must stop today,” State Superintendent of Education Carmen Ayala said in a press release. “ISBE condemns the unlawful use of isolated seclusion, and we will take immediate steps to ensure the traumatic treatment described in the investigation never happens to another Illinois student.”
In addition to calling for a halt to student isolation, ISBE says it will implement a new data-collection policy to improve accountability. That stands in contrast to what ISBE told the journalists working on the isolation investigation. When told of the findings, officials “acknowledged they don’t monitor the use of isolated timeout and said they would need legislative action to do so.” Wednesday’s announcement makes no mention of any legislation immediately authorizing data collection, but does include a statement from Gov. J.B. Pritzker in which he states plans to “work closely with the General Assembly to take additional steps to codify these emergency rules.”
The Tribune-ProPublica investigation details startling conditions students as young as 5 years old were placed in – sometimes out of safety concerns, but often as punishment for misbehavior in violation of the law.
“The students, most of them with disabilities, scratch the windows or tear at the padded walls. They throw their bodies against locked doors. They wet their pants. Some children spend hours inside these rooms, missing class time. Through it all, adults stay outside the door, writing down what happens,” reporters Jennifer Smith Richards, Jodi Cohen and Lakeidra Chavis wrote. “Children were sent to isolation after refusing to do classwork, for swearing, for spilling milk, for throwing Legos. School employees use isolated timeout for convenience, out of frustration or as punishment, sometimes referring to it as ‘serving time.’”
Reporters Smith Richards and Cohen join “Chicago Tonight” in conversation.