Some schools lock up students in ‘quiet rooms’ — NJ may start tracking that
TRENTON – New Jersey would require parents to be told immediately if their child is secluded in an isolation closet known as a "quiet room," under legislation that would also have the state collect data on that and other, related practices.
Schools would have to phone, email or text a parent as soon as their child was locked in seclusion, followed by a full written report within two days.
The bill follows an NJ Advance Media report in June that found at least 1,150 students, typically those with disabilities, have been secluded in such rooms in the state. They’re allowed under state law when a student could hurt themselves or others, but they’re sometimes used for minor infractions.
Sharon Levine, senior director for governmental affairs and communications for The Arc of New Jersey, said the bill endorsed by the Senate Education Committee is a first step but that more is needed.
“Parental notification is really non-negotiable,” Levine said. “Notifying parents and guardians puts everyone involved on the same page about what the student is experiencing and ensures that necessary conversations are taking place and making sure that everyone is rerouted back to positive behavior supports, prevention, de-escalation and redirection that will avoid future instances of seclusion.”
Levine said New Jersey should match federal legislation called the Keeping All Students Safe Act, which bans seclusion entirely. That bill has been around in Congress since 2009 but hasn’t been enacted.
A 2018 law allows for seclusion rooms to be used in New Jersey in limited circumstances.
How the 'quiet room' law would work
Under the bill, the state would begin to collect data on the use of seclusion and physical restraints. Peg Kinsell, policy director for the SPAN Parent Advocacy Network, said that would be a welcome change.
“Because they get left out of the prior legislation,” Kinsell said. “And we know if you don’t count the numbers, then you don’t count.”
Kinsell said students removed for disciplinary reasons after five days must receive home instruction. That’s not the case when students are removed pending psychiatric clearance – so kids wind up home for a long time with nothing in terms of academics.
But Kinsell and others said the data should be more detailed than what is currently proposed, including district-level detail rather than numbers aggregated at the state and county level by the race, gender and age of the student.
The state would also begin collecting data on how often schools remove students from a classroom pending a psychiatric clearance.
Ruby Kish, a staff attorney for the Education Law Center, said it’s the only type of school removal not governed by due-process rules to make sure it’s not done arbitrarily.
“The lack of regulations is particularly harmful for students with disabilities since these clearances disproportionately impact them and are often used in a way to deny them the significant IDEA procedural protections that were created to prevent just this type of exclusion,” Kish said.
Sen. Vin Gopal, D-Monmouth, who is among the sponsors of S3027, said work on additional amendments to the bill will continue.
“As we settle back into in-person learning, we continue to see some students struggle with behavioral health challenges, in part brought on by COVID-19,” Gopal said. “This bill represents a reminder that the seclusion technique should be used sparingly, and even then in accordance with current law and with an abundance of transparency.”