Does your school have a Scream Room?

(Originally posted Jan. 17, 2012)

The Scream Rooms. Sounds like a horror movie title, but it turns out to be school policy in Connecticut.

And we wouldn’t have known about them if a PTA president hadn’t stepped up and gone public. Kudos to Apryl Dudley, then. We need more like her.

I first heard about “the Scream Rooms” (actually closets) last week, when a Middletown, Connecticut blog posted this letter to they mayor from the president of the Farm Hill Elementary School PTA. It seemed odd that a parent leader would write to the mayor about a school issue. The school superintendent responded to Board of Education members and the Farm Hill principal, but apparently not to PTA President Apryl Dudley—which suggests a bit of dysfunction in the community.

Ms. Dudley writes,

My fear is that a child is going to get severely hurt and hope for a response and a resolution. In October, word got out about two rooms that were created for our “behavior students” who can’t control their anger. Parents and students refer to them as “Scream Rooms”. We were told they are alternative learning environments by administration. They are small rooms with concrete walls. When a child can’t be controlled they are brought to this room. Staff members stand outside the door until the child cools down, then they are let out. Three parents called me after they witnessed two staff members holding a door shut from one of these rooms with a child on the other side as they kicked and screamed uncontrollably. There is something unsettling, knowing that a child is hitting their head against walls and urinating everywhere, then only to be let out and put back in classrooms with our children.

During these events, depending on which room the child is in, it becomes a disruption to all classrooms surrounding it. Some classrooms/grades are made to stop their lesson and either read or color to try to ignore the blood curdling screams and even take their books and pencils into a different location in the school. Many times both of these rooms are being used at the same time which leaves no option to find a quiet spot to learn. I myself have witnessed children being restrained both inside and outside of the school and carried into these “Rooms”. My children come home weekly, “sometimes multiple times in a week”, discussing the incidents that occurred in school that day.

These outbursts are disrupting the entire school. Is Farm Hill the only school in the district with the ICM department? With CMT’s coming up, how are other children going to be able to perform well, when they are pretty much guaranteed to hear these outbursts? Farm Hill failed last year, what is going to happen this year?

In her long letter, the PTA president goes on to make these points:

I have included these additional facts that have been brought to my attention as parental issues for student and staff safety concerns and questionable acceptance policies by the BOE.

1) The police department had to be called at least once, each week since school started

2) Desks are being flipped, chairs are being thrown and equipment is being damaged. – DESTRUCTION OF PROPERTY

3) Staff members are being injured by students. – ABUSE

4) An ICM student allegedly put a belt around her neck during class. – Attempted Suicide/Attention

5) The same student punched a fellow student in the face, giving her a black eye. – Assault

6) Children in their fit of rage, rip down fellow classmates work with no consequence.

The superintendent’s response is contained in the same post as the letter.

Not surprisingly, Ms. Dudley’s letter set off a local firestorm of media coverage. You can see the coverage here, here, and here.

School officials at first downplayed the severity of the “time-out” rooms, but have since decided that it might be a good idea to do away with this method of behavior control.

One response worth noting: an editorial by Chris Powell, managing editor of the Manchester Journal Inquirer, that looks at the big picture.

Powell writes:

This stuff last week was all about the same thing — social disintegration, the collapse of the family, public policy’s acceptance of childbearing outside marriage (now approaching 40 percent of all births in the country), and the resulting child neglect and abuse, which profoundly damages and demoralizes children before dumping them first on schools, then on social service agencies and courts, and eventually on hospitals, reformatories, and prisons, overwhelming and crippling all those institutions along the way.

Merely managing for the benefit of the middle and upper classes rather than fixing this problem is what Connecticut’s growing system of “magnet schools” is all about. It is what the DCF’s exploding budget amid perpetual failure is all about. It is what state government’s tax insatiability amid a declining standard of living is all about. Soon there may be no one to remember that there once actually was a time in Connecticut when one could go from kindergarten through high school and never see a “scream room” or even a “school resource officer,” the euphemism for a cop ready to pounce on fatherless thugs before they beat up more than a few of their classmates or teachers.

Powell’s editorial is well worth reading in its entirety.

Pamela McLoughlin, another Connecticut journalist (and parent of a special-needs child), writes:

Now that the dirty little secret about “scream rooms” is out, let’s hope legislators take notice and do something about this psychologically destructive practice employed routinely in special education schools across the state.

As a parent of a child with autism who has spent many hours of his elementary school days in the rooms in various schools, I’ll say it straight: This is state-sanctioned, institutionalized child abuse.

If I locked my kid in a closet it would be a crime. Yet some schools do it every day.

You can read her column here.

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