SALEM, Ore. – Lawmakers heard emotional testimony Friday about a bill that would ban some types of so-called "seclusion rooms" in public schools.
The type of isolation room at issue is similar to a room in Washington, which was a standalone cell or padded room. KATU first reported on the parents' outrage over the use of that isolation room last year. Since those series of reports, the Longview School District stopped using that isolation room. But that type of room may soon be banned all together in Oregon schools.
A mother and others testified before lawmakers in support of the ban.
Jennifer Harrison said school staff at her son's Eugene school, McCornack, used the room to punish him for four years without her knowledge.
"I was never notified. I didn't know it was happening until I walked in and found him screaming facedown on the ground with two adults sitting on top of him," she said.
Her son, Jared, now in the seventh-grade, said he was in the first-grade when he was first forced into one of those rooms, sometimes for hours. His mother sat by his side in tears as he told legislators it happened almost every day for four years.
"You have two adults dragging you into a room and locking the door behind you and you're just a little kid and you don't know what's going on," he said. "You're not going to be calm. And I know no one else in the room was calm. They were all freaking out because their friend's being locked in a room. It didn't help the situation at all. It made it worse – much worse than it would've been if I had just sat in a timeout chair for five minutes."
Kerry Delf, a spokeswoman for the Eugene School District, said she couldn't comment on specific students.
McCornack does not have a seclusion room in use at this time but it did have one at one point when it had a "behavior support program," she said.
There are a few seclusion rooms throughout the district, she said, but they are only used as part of a "student behavior support plan," which is developed in cooperation with the parents.
"A student wouldn't be put in a seclusion room if they were not part of a behavior support plan, which a parent would have to agree to first," Delf said, adding the rooms are not used for punishment or discipline.
The district follows the Oregon Department of Education’s guidelines regarding seclusion rooms, and they do not have locks, she said.
If Oregon's bill passes, it would join four other states that ban "isolation rooms." Those are Nevada, Texas, Pennsylvania and Georgia.
On Thursday a Washington House committee approved new legislation that would require schools to notify parents if their kids are put in isolation or restrained. The bill's sponsors expect it to pass the full Legislature and become law.
Watch Jennifer and Jared Harrison's full testimonies: