Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Scream Rooms in Schools?! What the...

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The name alone is terrifying. The first time I heard the term "scream room" I had no idea what it was or what it was in reference to, but I was pretty sure I didn't want to go there...

This video will take you through an elementary school in Connecticut that uses scream rooms, so you can get an idea of what I'm talking about.

Scream rooms (aka isolation or seclusion rooms) might have padded walls, or could just be an empty classroom. Schools say they use them to restrain or detain kids who are out of control, over-stimulated, or having a violent emotional episode, and they're often used with special-needs students. Growing up I'd never seen or heard of anything like this, but I was surprised to learn that only 20 states have laws that protect kids from being forcibly restrained or isolated, meaning 30 states have basically no restrictions on this type of discipline (click here if you want to know your state's laws). Google "scream rooms" and you'll see how outraged parents are about them. I'm undecided as to how I feel on the use of these rooms, and here's why:

On one hand, I think locking a child in a room alone as a punishment for bad behavior is sickening, especially an elementary-age kid. Reports have discovered that in some cases, children were left alone screaming from anywhere between 15 minutes to several hours in these rooms with only intermittent supervision, that several had peed their pants, and that other kids have died or attempted suicide while in these rooms. Ugh. Even scarier is the idea that parents (especially those with special needs children) may not even be aware that their school uses scream rooms, or be notified that their child was placed in one. A report by the Connecticut Department of Education found that in several elementary schools, faculty was not properly trained on how or when to utilize scream rooms, parents routinely failed to be notified, and there was no documentation indicating how long kids were isolated.

 The obvious problem is that there is way too much room for noncompliance with this type of discipline, even if faculty is properly trained. One autistic girl said her teacher put her in the scream room because she sharpened her pencil too much...I'm guessing she writes all of her assignments in pen now. The whole situation sounds vaguely reminiscent of the Stanford Prison Experiment, which leads me to believe punishment of this sort isn't likely to turn out great for anyone.

On the other hand, kids.are.crazy. I saw Dangerous Minds, and I'm not that tough. I can't imagine the crap teachers are confronted with day in and day out; back in the day kids used to run in the hallways and shoot spitballs, now they swear at teachers and shoot each other. School violence is increasing, but teachers have limited means to be able to deal with problem kids. If corporal punishment isn't an option, is time-out so bad? Some kids are so out of control they need to be physically restrained. It's also a fact (well, I guess it's more my opinion, but on my blog I'll call it a fact) that many parents are unwittingly raising a generation of crappy kids. They aren't putting in the time or effort to develop mature and respectful kids at home, and they resent the fact that any another adult could have the audacity to discipline their bratty child. Where parents used to rightfully place the blame on their kids' behavior, everything (from bad grades to bullying) is now the fault of the school system.

The CT report I mentioned earlier found that scream rooms were used to calm agitated students, as well as protect students from kids who were threatening harm or being destructive. Additionally, several kids requested to use the scream rooms when they were feeling over-stimulated, and multiple parents supported their use as a means of calming their children.

I think there are situations in which a scream room might be necessary. Are scream rooms "sadistic, as a lot of people are saying, or have we just gone soft when it comes to disciplining our kids?

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