A small padded room where a child is placed sounds like something out of a movie but it is actually a discipline technique regulated by the Illinois State Board of Education. An area parent raised concerns about how that discipline is handled in the Harlem School District after her child was placed in an "intervention room." This sparked community members to contact us to learn more about them.
The Harlem School District has something called a safe crisis management team. They step in when a child ends up in these intervention rooms.
"It's really a determination that the team makes whether or not they need to go to the intervention room for that student to de-escalate if they were potentially harming themselves or another individual," says Heidi Lange, director of student support services at Harlem Schools.
There are three of these intervention rooms in the Harlem School District at Marquette, Machesney and Maple Elementaries. This one at Maple is a 7 by 11 foot room with mats on the wall and the floor. The district says the rooms are used for students in their behavioral, social and emotional programs. But parents says teachers who can't handle a student might try to use it when a trip the principal's office might be just as effective.
"It's not just necessarily their disability but their needs they are unable to control themselves," says Lange.
Another concern, how long a student might spend in an intervention room possibly by themselves.
"Typically we are in the room trying to de-escalate the child," says Lange.
Harlem does say there can be times a child might spend a longer period in the intervention room but a staff member is always there. Illinois school code says a child could be left by themselves in the room as long as a staff member is outside at least two feet away, watching the child through a window in the room. The Harlem Superintendent says it's possible for schools to misuse the room but maintains all the educators who have used it have specialized crisis management training..
"This is not something that you use without a plan or without trained individuals who know how to work through that process. But it certainly provides a purpose and it's based on the needs of the child. So if the child needs this and it helps them de-escalate it's a positive process," says Julie Morris, Harlem School Superintendent.
Harlem is actually in the process of constructing a fourth intervention room for it's middle school.
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