A Nov. 19 article published by ProPublica Illinois and the Chicago Tribune, outlined the practice of using isolated timeout rooms in Illinois - and in some instances - wrongly using those spaces for punishment.
Some of the circumstances spotlighted in the article were heartbreaking and, frankly, hard to read. However, it's important to understand that the instances highlighted in the article do not reflect the therapeutic timeout rooms or safe spaces that are used to assist students with special needs.
The report also served to remind readers that there are dedicated educators across this state who, every day, lovingly work with students who have very significant issues.
These educators want their students to succeed in life and do all they can to ensure that happens. These professionals are often hit, bit, scratched and injured while doing so, yet they remain calm because of their passion for assisting their students achieve their individual goals all while keeping love in their hearts.
As a result of this report, the Illinois State Board of Education immediately called a halt to the practice of using isolated timeout rooms with a set of emergency rules that asked, instead, that an adult be present with students when they are moved from the classroom into a timeout room. In addition, legislation is expected to be introduced that would completely ban the use of isolated timeout rooms in schools.
The Illinois Education Association believes it is crucial that the state legislature conduct subject matter hearings on the topic of isolated timeout rooms, so that everyone involved, especially those trained professionals working in our schools, are provided an opportunity to discuss the therapeutic practices used when a timeout room/safe space is used.
Illinois has been hit with a perfect storm - years of underfunding of schools, a teacher shortage, a dearth of paraprofessionals and social workers, at least four years of our social services being financially starved and all of those circumstances have had a negative impact our schools.
The social safety net in Illinois crumbled during Gov. Bruce Rauner's term. Today, we have schools feeding students all three meals and also sending food home on weekends. We have unsupported children and families who come to school with myriad issues. Schools are being called upon to fix all the problems and injustices in the lives of our students.
There is great work going on in schools and special education co-ops around this state, but we know our members are doing this work within a system that is under tremendous stress. It is inevitable that, when there are overwhelming stresses on the system, poor choices might be made.
Regardless of the best efforts of the state and educators, there still will be situations where students present a danger to themselves and others. In those circumstances, we advocate that the child be taken to a location where they can calm down, process and problem solve with a trained professional, using therapeutic and restorative practices. This will ensure the child is supported and helped to self-regulate.
So much emphasis is placed on academic rigor and testing, but allowing schools and educators to take the time to concentrate on teaching self-regulation, calming down, getting to the root of what's causing the trauma is just as important. Our systems need to reflect this.
Our schools are staffed by compassionate professionals dedicated to the well-being of all of their students. It is crucial that our state's next steps provide the support they need to be successful.