Multiple Iowa school districts lock children in dark, confined boxes as a form of punishment
A controversial new type of punishment has been making the rounds through Iowa schools during the last year. Tiny pine boxes with little to no light or ventilation, called “seclusion enclosures” are designed to confine children while disciplining them.
Since when did we start criminalizing kids as a form of discipline?
Many of these boxes are limited in size: six feet by six feet. And they can only be opened from the outside. It’s alarming, to say the least.
If you’re thinking this is reminiscent of Trunchbull’s “chokey” in Matilda, you’re not alone. Parents and guardians who have children in Iowa school districts have been complaining about seclusion rooms since they started sprouting up last year.
The walls of these rooms are often padded, with very little (if any) air flow or light. A complaint filed earlier this year cites some of the seclusion rooms as “a plywood box lined with foul-smelling black horse stall mats” with flooring made from recycled tires.
“If I was to do what they did, it would be child abuse,” Tammy Mims, a former resident of Cedar Rapids, told The Progressive. “Why is it OK for the school district to do that to a child?” Mims is the guardian for a little girl who was locked inside one of these rooms, which used to be an old utility closet. She said she could hear the girl screaming to be let out in the background when she received a call informing her of the punishment. By the time she arrived at the school, her little girl had been let go from the room, but was still “traumatized” by the ordeal.
Oh, and that’s another thing: Iowa parents aren’t asked for their permission when it comes to the use of this type of punishment. According to state rules, they have to be notified during the same day the punishment occurs. But legally, they don’t have to offer their consent. Probably because no parent of sound mind would ever consent to their child being locked inside a dark, hot, smelly makeshift closet at school.
Sending children to sit in a dark, cramped abyss seems counterproductive as a punishment for a child who is harming themselves or others, which is the intended use for these rooms — to serve as a drastic “time out” for violent kids. But that hasn’t stopped teachers and administrators from confining kids for minor grievances, like stepping out of line at recess or pouting, according to Iowan paper The Gazette. Students can spend up to an hour in the chokeys — ahem, seclusion rooms — and the school needs “special permission” to extend their time beyond that.
Take a minute to digest that — an hour. OR MORE. That’s a long fucking time to be sitting in a tiny, claustrophobic box completely ostracized from your peers.
According to the HuffPo video, an Iowa school board member even referred to these room as “little dungeons.” While legal complaints have been filed, and the Iowa City Community School Board is currently evaluating its use of seclusion as punishment, these classroom prison cells can still be found in at least 18 elementary and secondary schools across the state of Iowa. Since Iowa defines corporal punishment as “intentional physical punishment of a student” using “unnecessary physical force,” these rooms are able to slide by the state’s ban on corporal punishment.
“While many of the concerns have already been addressed, the district will continue to develop and implement systemic changes that positively impact the learning environment for all students,” Kristin Pedersen, Community Affairs Coordinator for the Iowa City Schools District said in a statement to USA Today.
Beyond the question of the effectiveness of these rooms, what is the overall lesson these kids are learning? If there is indeed a situation where a child is harming themselves or others, there is no doubt a school official should intervene immediately. But is a six foot Pine Box Of Terror really the best way to do that?
We trust school districts with our children’s lives — Iowa schools can do far, far better by parents and students. Further traumatizing them seems inhumane and unnecessary.