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A Davenport mother of a special-needs child appreciates an initiative from Iowa senators to investigate reporting about isolation rooms in schools.

U. S. Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, and U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, have asked the U. S. Department of Education Office of Inspector General to investigate “systemic misreporting” of restraint and seclusion in Iowa schools, an investigation that could have ramifications in Davenport.

“I thank the senators for their concern and support,” parent Gina Hale said Wednesday night. “I wonder if they can imagine a situation bad enough that they would lock their own children or grandchildren in a closet for three days?"

Hale is referring to a WQAD report of a parent, Nicole Wallace, who alleged her son was sent to an empty room, called the Skills Room, at Smart Intermediate School, for up to three weeks.

Earlier this year, a state audit found the Davenport Community School District's special education program was in "systemic non-compliance" with several parts of the federal law that governs education of students with disabilities. Among the findings was that they district uses "different names for places where students with and without IEPs (individualized education plans) displaying problem behaviors are sent outside the regular classroom including Reflection Rooms, Diversion Rooms, Crisis Rooms, Intervention Rooms, Crisis Intervention Rooms, Seclusion Rooms, Skills Room, House Office, Referral Room and “room for isolation to calm down,” and says “It is unclear which of these settings are in-school suspension and which are forms of seclusion.”

“As a mother and a teacher, I encourage them to read the existing research on the impact of isolation and confinement on juveniles,” said Hale, who is an active member of the District Wide Davenport PTO. “This must end.”

The District Wide Davenport PTO has called for “the end of isolation rooms for students.”

In a May 17 letter to The Hon. Kathleen Tighe, U.S. Department of Education, Office of Inspector General, Grassley and Ernst noted the Cedar Rapids Community School District was violating federal reporting requirements regarding the use of seclusion and restraint.

“There is evidence to suggest that this is a systemic problem,” they wrote. They refer to a Nov. 29, 2017, Politico report that discusses similar incidents of misreporting around the country.

“In November, our staffs contacted your office asking you to investigate this matter. Your office recently informed us that the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights … is looking into these allegations, and that you will consider a broader inspection of systemic issues related to reporting and data quality in your planning for upcoming FY 2019 audit work.”

In Davenport, the audit of 2017-2018 data found some schools removed students “from their regular placement for a median of 40 minutes at a time. It was possible for multiple removals to take place during a single day or for students to be removed from the regular setting for multiple instructional days at a time. The median number of minutes of removal ranged from 25-100, depending on the building serving the students.”

These removals were not reported as in-school suspensions, “nor were manifestation determinations conducted when required.”

The report also noted that, for the 2015-16 school year, African-American students with IEPs were more likely to get out-of-school suspensions than other racial categories. A review of data from last fall showed that black students, regardless of whether they are in special education, are more likely to be secluded or restrained than other students.

In the letter, Grassley and Ernst said they hope "to see more accurate reporting from school districts throughout the state of Iowa.

“However, given the impact of such matters on children in the classroom, and in particular, children with disabilities, we request that (Office of Inspector General) performs its own investigation of erroneous reporting of restraint and seclusion, as this appears to be a systemic problem," they said.

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