Thu, April 09

Legislature examines plan for school isolation rooms

PHOENIX -- Arizona schools are on the verge of getting their first-ever mandate to have rules of when they can put unruly and problem students into isolation rooms.

Without dissent the Senate on Thursday approved legislation that school districts must have policies in place before the new school year for confining pupils alone in an enclosed space.

First, if schools want to use isolation for discipline they would first have to notify all parents that is an option. That information would have to be included in each student's enrollment packet or admission form.

Potentially more significant, schools would need a system in place to actually tell a parent when his or her child is about to be locked up.

HB 2476 does allow school officials to act if a principal or teacher determines that the student "poses imminent physical harm to self or others.' And in those cases the school official must make "reasonable attempts' to notify the parent by the end of the day that the procedure was used.

Rep. Kelly Townsend, R-Mesa, said she drew up the measure after concluding that parents are unaware that some schools are using the isolation rooms. And the state Department of Education does not have a requirement for schools to report when a child is disciplined this way.

Their use became more widely known after a parent filed suit last year against the Deer Valley Unified School District after saying she found her child "in a room the size of an elevator,' lying on the floor and completely unresponsive. Leslie Noyes said she was not aware her son was being treated that way.

The legislation is a compromise of sorts between those who say the rooms can sometimes be necessary and other lawmakers who contend they are inappropriate in all cases.

A different version of the measure has already been approved by the House.

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