The Controversy About “Scream Rooms”

isolation room An elementary school in Connecticut has been using what are being referred to as “scream rooms” as a means of disciplining students who have special needs. Needless to say, parents are outraged. There is the potential that your child’s school is using something similar, without directly informing parents about it.

Farm Hill School is a public elementary school that is run by the Area Cooperative Regional Education Services in North Haven, Connecticut. They have been using a controversial form of discipline with students who have special needs.

They are using what is technically called a “seclusion room”, which is allowed under a 2007 law for students with disabilities. Part of that law points out that the use of this type of room is only allowed if it is specified in a child’s Individualized Education Program (IEP), and if it has been determined by a team of professionals, the parent, and the child, that it would be advantageous to use a seclusion room. The purpose of these rooms is to be a safe place for a student who is “out of control” to calm down.

In other words, these rooms are not supposed to be used unless a parent has given the school explicit permission to put their child into one of these seclusion rooms. I think it is implied that the room is only to be used as a “last resort”, and that a teacher would be with the child while he or she calms down. It also can be reasonably assumed that a seclusion room would be, well, a room, and not a closet.

The staff at Farm Hill school have been using 10-by-6 foot “rooms” that has a window on the door, as a seclusion room. They were putting students who have special needs, or disabilities, into one of these rooms whenever the child’s behavior has become too disruptive for him or her to remain in the classroom. The term “scream room” is being used because once the child is locked into one of these rooms, by himself, he screams to be let out. This can be heard by other students in the school.

Some children have reported to their parents that they have spent a portion of nearly every school day in the “scream room”. Some kids end up spending the majority of the school day secluded in one of these rooms. There are children who are so traumatized by this experience that they are now completely terrified about attending school (even if they have moved to a different school). There have been instances were a child was injured while inside the “scream room”, (by repeatedly rocking part of their body against part of the room).

It has been said that schools who resort to “scream rooms” are not properly training their staff about how to de-escalate situations before a child is out of control. The staff has not been taught about when it would be appropriate to use an isolation room, (or for how long a child can be placed in one). There is the potential that the school has neglected to hire the proper amount of staff.

All of this can be avoided. Carroll Manor Elementary School, which is located in Maryland, is using a multi-sensory room. It is a room filled with bubble tubes that light up, muffled music, small trampolines, and other things that can help an overwhelmed child calm down. A staff member goes into the room with the child, and the room can be used before a child becomes overwhelmed, and “out of control”.

Image by grahamc99 on Flickr