Oregon bill would ban school seclusion cells

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SALEM, Ore. — The Oregon Senate voted Monday to make it illegal for schools to isolate misbehaving children in "seclusion cells."

The legislation would outlaw any "freestanding, self-contained" unit to isolate students or lock them up. It would not ban larger rooms used similarly, such as empty classrooms for time-outs.

Oregon allows children to be secluded when there's an imminent threat of bodily injury and other ways of controlling the behavior are ineffective. It is unclear how many Oregon schools have seclusion chambers that would become illegal.

"I was surprised and embarrassed that we even had these kinds of facilities" in Oregon schools, said Sen. Lee Beyer, D-Springfield.

Critics say seclusion cells are sometimes used merely as punishment, not for children to calm down.

Some officials say seclusion cells are an important tool to help children calm down without being physically restrained.

Portland Public Schools has four seclusion rooms at its Pioneer Special School Program for children with special needs.

Use of the rooms is strictly regulated, and the vast majority of uses are for less than 10 minutes, said Portland Public Schools spokeswoman Erin Hoover Barnett. A staff member must stand outside the door and record the child's behavior every minute, she said. If motion detectors sense that the adult is gone, the room automatically unlocks.

"They're only used in situations where the student is really struggling and in need of some down time and a controlled space where they can calm down," Hoover Barnett said.

The bill approved Monday would require schools to remove seclusion cells this summer. The Senate approved it Monday by 27-1, sending it to Gov. John Kitzhaber. Sen. Doug Whitsett, R-Klamath Falls, said he voted no because the measure mandates that schools eliminate seclusion cells but doesn't pay for it.