Education Law

Kindergartener's Mop Closet Restraint Yields School Settlement; Seclusion Is Still Used Elsewhere

Investigative journalist Bill Lichtenstein says he was perplexed when his then-5-year-old daughter, Rose, began throwing violent tantrums at home about six years ago.

He noted another unusual behavior: Rose would repeatedly watch a scene from Finding Nemo in which a shark tries to enter a small room and eat the main characters. Lichtenstein finally figured out the problem, he writes in a New York Times op-ed, when he got a call to come pick up Rose at school because she had taken off her clothes.

At school, Rose was alone in a basement mop closet, Lichtenstein writes. “There was nothing in the closet for a child—no chair, no books, no crayons, nothing but our daughter standing naked in a pool of urine, looking frightened as she tried to cover herself with her hands. On the floor lay her favorite purple-striped Hanna Andersson outfit and panties.”

Later, Rose said she took off her clothes because she needed to use the bathroom and she didn’t want to wet her clothes. She had been locked in the closet five times that morning, and had been put there almost daily for up to three months. She was sent to the closet, the school said, because of behavioral issues and failing to follow directions.

Lichtenstein says he filed “an action” against the school district, and settled for the costs of Rose’s needed psychological treatment. But the practice of using seclusion rooms and physical restraints is common in other school districts as well, he says. His op-ed quotes Jessica Butler, a lawyer who has written about restraints and seclusion. “They’re the last resort too often being used as the first resort,” Butler said.

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