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Columbus City Schools, Ohio Legal Rights Service Spar Over Seclusion Rooms

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Thursday, October 18, 2012 at 6:22 PM

There's padding on the walls of a seclusion room in Columbus' Beatty Park Elementary School, which serves children with behavioral and emotional disturbances.

Last month the Ohio Legal Rights Service issued a report asserting that Columbus City Schools have misused seclusion rooms.

The report found that seclusion was used as a way to punish children in rooms that often smelled of urine or had foot latches to lock students in. The report also found that staff is not properly trained in the use of seclusion and restraint.

Now Columbus City Schools have fired back via a letter sent by Wanda Lillis, associate legal counsel to Columbus City Schools.

In the letter, Lillis objects to OLRS' findings and defends the district's use of seclusion rooms.

"It is the District's responsibility to keep everyone in that classroom safe, including the student, staff and the other students in the room," Lillis writes. "Sometimes that includes removing the student from the classroom to a place where his safety can be better maintained."

[related_content align="right"]Sue Tobin, a lawyer with OLRS shot back with a letter just a few days after receiving the district's response. In it, she rejects the assertions that the initial report was based on anecdotes.

"The report is not based on ‘conjecture’ but instead, documentation provided by the district and interviews with students and parents," Tobin writes.

Tobin also took issue with the language used to refer to one of the student's referenced in the initial OLRS report.

The language and tone contained in your letter essentially blames the victim. It includes references to behavior that the district is ‘dealing with’ (twice) as a ‘problem’ as opposed to trying to help youth in distress whom the district should be committed to educating. To locate the ‘problem’ within the student relieves the school system of the responsibility to remedy the problem and creates a tacitly hostile educational environment for the students where they become tantamount to the enemy.

The letter also instructs Columbus City Schools to develop a plan around their future use of seclusion and restraint, and immediately remove the doors from their seclusion rooms.

Tobin says she doesn't expect a response before October 29, and it's unclear what OLRS plans to do if Columbus City Schools does not comply with its requests.

You can read the letter written by Columbus City Schools here:

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And the response from OLRS here:

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