Portland school ordered to remove 'seclusion cell'

PORTLAND, Ore. - Portland Public Schools must remove four so-called seclusion cells from a school for kids with behavioral issues, according to after a ruling from the Oregon Department of Education.

The ODE ruled that the seclusion cells at Pioneer School must be removed to comply with a new Oregon law. The law required that all seclusion cells be removed by Sept. 1, but the district was waiting for guidance from the state about their compliance.

"While we appreciate that the rooms were built to address student safety concerns and have several features to ensure that students are not injured while in the rooms, the language and the intent of the legislation is clear," Cindy Hunt with the Oregon Department of Education wrote in the letter to PPS. "The seclusion units at Pioneer School are considered to be seclusion cells, and the Portland Public Schools is required to immediately remove the units from the premises of Pioneer School."

School district spokeswoman Christine Miles confirmed to KATU they received a letter late Monday.

Miles said the district plans to inform state officials that they will indeed remove the rooms. She said the exact timeline wasn't clear, but it would be as soon as possible.

A mother who used to have a child with behavioral issues at Pioneer School told KATU she was in favor of the cells.

"It's a method to help these children self-calm," she said. "A safe place where they will not be injured or injure a staff member."

She said not having the cells could be a detriment to the kids.

"They need to be able to learn how to help themselves," she said.

The mother spoke with KATU on the condition on anonymity.

Facility managers are still working up plans to remove the cells.

"As you know, student and staff safety is foremost in our actions and we look forward to having a continuing dialogue with the Department about appropriate strategies and physical spaces by ensuring such safety when the need arises," PPS general counsel Jollee Patterson wrote in a response to the ODE. "As you note in your letter the practice of seclusion is not prohibited by statute and as such it is vital that districts be given greater advice on how to implement seclusion strategies that are safe for all parties."

KATU's recent coverage of seclusion cells at Pioneer School and elsewhere: