The Ohio Legal Rights Service, an independent state agency that aims to protect the rights of disabled individuals, has sued an Ohio school district. The agency accuses the school district of using "seclusion rooms" to hold students with special needs.
The lawsuit was filed after the mother of a student with autism told the agency that teachers had placed her child in a seclusion room, which she referred to as a "closet." The woman alleges that this directly led to her child's personal injury, as he urinated in the room and contracted a staph infection after lying on the floor. This prompted the Ohio Legal Rights Service to launch a "district-wide investigation of abuse, neglect and/or significant rights violation" in the school district.
An investigator with the agency has described the seclusion room involved in the mother's complaint as "a padded room with a metal door that had two peep holes and a foot latch lock." The lawsuit claims that at least four schools in the Columbus school district, the largest in the state, make use of such rooms.
In addition to the lawsuit, the mother could also file her own personal injury lawsuit against the school for the suffering her child endured.
According to the U.S. Government Accountability Office, restraining students or placing them in seclusion may be necessary to protect them and others from injury. However, the GAO also found that such practices can be dangerous. A 2009 GAO report to Congress found that children subjected to those methods are at a higher risk of physical and mental injury than adults.
The plaintiffs behind the lawsuit hope to force the school district to release records regarding the use of seclusion rooms. There are no federal laws on such rooms, and while Ohio does have some restrictions regarding their use, advocates say the state's laws are weak. A representative for the Ohio Department of Education says he and his staff are developing better guidelines regarding seclusion rooms and how they should be used.
Source: StateImpact (NPR), "Columbus School District Sued Over Accusations of Locking Disabled Students in Padded Rooms," Molly Bloom, March 7, 2012