Nearly every day, Brenna Wann saw staff members take young students, sometimes kicking and screaming, to the “quiet room” of her Colorado elementary school.
“They get in there, and then they’re mad they’re in there,” said Wann, who left her job as a classroom aide for students with emotional disabilities in early February. “You watch them, and they’re like a caged animal in there. They’re pacing back and forth. If they see you in the window, they’ll come and attack the door and want to be let out.”
Shutting a student in a room, called seclusion, is an allowable form of restraint in Colorado for students who display violent or dangerous behavior. State rules say it should only be used “in an emergency and with extreme caution.” The same applies to physical restraint, which means using physical force to restrict a student’s movement for more than five minutes.
A Chalkbeat investigation found that weak laws and oversight have contributed to wide variations in how Colorado’s 10 largest school districts report restraint and seclusion, making it impossible to get a full picture of an increasingly controversial practice that could harm students.
Many affected students have disabilities. Advocates and others, including the U.S. Department of Education, have raised concerns about whether seclusion and restraint are even effective at curbing problematic student behavior.
Citing open records law, Chalkbeat requested copies of the districts’ state-mandated annual reviews that are meant to ensure they are “properly administering” restraint and seclusion.