Principal wants to clear up misconceptions of 'isolation rooms'

PORTLAND, Ore. - The isolation rooms in public schools that have become so controversial since a woman posted pictures of one of them on Facebook not only vary from state to state but also from school to school in what they look like and how they're used.

KATU broke this story when it showed the pictures of the small padded room at Mint Valley Elementary School that a concerned parent posted. The photos created a huge debate about the treatment of disruptive students. While some say the room can be beneficial if used properly, others call it cruel and inhumane.

Four Corners School, in the Reynolds School District, specializes in instruction for children with behavioral problems.

The school did not allow cameras into the school Friday, citing student privacy, but a reporter was given a tour.

Some of the rooms used as seclusion rooms, or safe rooms, are empty classrooms with regular doors that almost always stay open while the student is in the room. Each classroom has a safe room next to it where students can go if they are at risk of hurting themselves or other students.

The smaller safe rooms are about the size of a parking space - twelve feet by six feet.

The school did not want to comment on the Longview school's isolation room but wanted to make sure that one school doesn't represent every special education program.

"The thing that we invite, and are hoping people to see, is that these are spaces and we really focus on helping the students be successful," said Four Corners School Principal Michael Conn. "We have fantastic families, and we have fantastic staff, and sometimes things that are out there in the community, it's not necessarily an accurate reflection of what it is the good people in the public education system are doing every single day."

The parents at Four Corners School are always notified before the school day is over if their child spent time in a seclusion room.

Oregon state law is a little bit more specific than Washington when it comes to requirements for how these rooms are used in schools. In Oregon, those rooms are only to be used if there is "imminent threat of serious physical harm." But Washington, along with dozens of other states, doesn't go that far.

The bottom line is there are a lot of variations between states and even between schools.

By talking about his school, Conn hopes to clear up some misconceptions and assumptions about these rooms. He wanted to explain how each school's idea of a safe room or isolation room isn't necessarily the same as the one in Longview.

"Therapeutic schools do amazing work and working with students that have mental health needs and disabilities," he said. "I don't want the entire idea of things that take place in some of these settings to be that it's punitive or anything like that."

Meanwhile, an investigation into the isolation room at Longview's Mint Elementary, prompted by backlash over its room and at least three complaints alleging the misuse of it, could take two weeks, according to the Longview School District.