A seclusion room, called a “quiet” room at Harpswell Community School, has become a concern for at least one mother who says both her sons have spent time in the room she claims is dangerous. (Darcie Moore / The Times Record)

HARPSWELL — Rebecca Ross says her son struggles in school, and those struggles – combined with other disabilities including anxiety disorders – have led to behavioral problems. His tantrums have been so severe at times that he has been removed from class at Harpswell Community School and placed in seclusion in a saferoom — a 64-square-foot empty space with carpeted walls used to confine students posing harm to themselves or others.

“My kid has probably used that room more than anybody,” Ross said.

The incidents of seclusion reported to the state fluctuate from year to year. Statewide, the use of seclusion increased from 2016-17 to 2017-18

Statewide, between the 2016-17 and 2017-18 school years, the practice of isolating students in seclusion rooms skyrocketed by 67% — from 2,527 to 4,217 incidents, according to the Maine Department of Education.

The reason for the increase is not clear.

Yet, despite recent controversy surrounding the room’s use – including complaints from one mother who claimed use of the room endangered her child – Ross said the room has allowed her son to cope with his episodes.


“He’s also learned that when he’s frustrated, to take a moment and go in there when it’s bad,” Ross said. “He’s able to pull himself away. I’ve seen him go in there, slam the door and he’s able to have that quiet moment.”

Each of the largest school districts in the Midcoast confine students who pose a safety risk to a room several times each year.

School Administrative District 75 has used seclusion 631 times over the past five years, with as few as 96 instances in 2014 and spiking to 177 in 2016. The incidents are spread across the district’s five elementary schools and more than half of them — 359 instances — occurred at Woodside Elementary School, home to the district’s special programs serving students with moderate to profound special needs.

Similarly, Regional School Unit 1 reported 45 incidents of seclusion involving 27 students over the past five years at Dike-Newell School, which houses the district’s K-2 behavioral support program.

“Many of the students supported by the program need support with developing self-regulation skills, learning coping skills and managing their emotions when frustrated,” Superintendent Patrick Manuel wrote in an email. “Developmentally, we find that our K-2 students within our behavioral support program tend to exhibit behaviors that require the appropriate use of physical restraint and/or seclusion, more so than our older students who have more developed skills.”

In the past six years, Brunswick School Department reported 403 uses of seclusion, which includes a spike of 175 uses in 2013. Incidents dropped to as low as 32 in 2015 and the school district reports only 39 seclusions in 2018.


The use of seclusion and restraint are being debated in Maine and nationally. A bill sponsored by Maine state Rep. Richard R. Farnsworth of Portland would mandate that schools report annually to the department of education and make incidents of restraint and seclusion public.

Nationally, the “Keeping All Students Safe Act,” sponsored by Virgina Democrat Donald Sternoff Beyer Jr. has been presented to the House and referred to the Committee on Education and the Workforce and Committee on Armed Service.

If enacted the law would prohibit the use of seclusion and limit restraint in federally-funded schools and ensure parents are informed when their child is physically restrained.

Twenty-two organizations — including the Autism Society of America and the National PTA — have endorsed Beyer’s bill.

“Restraint and seclusion are dangerous practices that cause students trauma and have resulted in injury, and even death,” according to The Alliance to Prevent Restraint, Aversive Interventions, and Seclusion in a statement endorsing the bill. “School personnel can also be injured when imposing restraint and seclusion. Though the use of restraint and seclusion is widespread, national data indicates that students with disabilities are roughly 20 times more likely than their peers without disabilities to be restrained and/or secluded. All of our nation’s students deserve better.”

According to the 2015-16 Civil Rights Data Collection, during the 2015–16 school year, more than 36,000 students nationwide were secluded during emotional and behavioral episodes. Whether that number is trending upward or downward was unclear.


U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos announced Jan. 17 that the U.S. Department of Education will launch an initiative to address the possible inappropriate use of restraint and seclusion in schools.


Kendele Ouellette recently raised the alarm on the seclusion room at Harpswell Community School. She shared her story of her son’s experience in the room last year in a social media post that spurred other parents to criticize the use of such rooms.

Ouellette told The Times Record her son was placed in the seclusion room at Harpswell Community School at the start of last school year. She said the school called her and by the time she got there, she found her 9-year-old son in the room screaming to be let out, drenched in sweat and his face bright red.

She said it was a dangerous situation for her son, who suffers from asthma.

Ouellette feels there were other policy violations, such as a lack of proper monitoring of her son during this seclusion, but was more focused on the safety concern.


“I felt they had completely put his life in danger,” she said.

Ouellette provided an incident report for her son’s seclusion in Sept. 18, 2017. According to the report, her son became agitated after refusing to sit at a table to eat lunch.

“He threw his milk, began crying and screaming,” the incident report states. “He was given directions to calm down and sit at back of Quiet Room for 3 minutes, then he could earn his way back again.”

The report further states the child was unable to calm himself and staff documented abusive language, screaming and beating on the walls.

Ouellette said her son would sometimes start throwing things and fight staff.

“He’ll start kicking and throwing his arms when they’re close enough,” she said. “When they’re struck, that’s when they put him into the room. They say he’s a danger at that point. But it’s not like they’re trying to deescalate him a different way. It says you are to try everything before you put him in that room. Maybe to them, they feel like they have.”


After meeting with school officials, she expected ventilation improvements to be made to the room. She said she found the room unchanged when she discovered her younger son was placed in the quiet room this school year, against her wishes. She has since sent the school a letter barring her children from the seclusion room and moved the youngest son to another school in the district.

School Administrative District 75 has stated the 64-square-foot seclusion room is constructed and used in accordance with state law and district policy but declined to comment on Ouellette’s allegations, citing student confidentiality.

“Each of the schools in the district contains a designated space that can be used in the event a seclusion is necessary,” Interim Superintendent Bob Lucy stated in a March 15 letter to the SAD 75 community.

Lucy stated the room is used in rare cases of emergency as a last resort if a student’s behavior poses a danger to the student, other students or staff members.

“What that generally means is that the child is attacking or attempting to physically attack adults of peers and cannot be escalated to the point of being safe or is putting his/her own body in danger,” Lucy wrote.



Sarah Adkins, Maine Department of Education’s student assistance coordinator, said the state has a law that allows for students to be placed in timeout, and the use of timeout areas. This use of timeout was first brought to schools for approval around 2001. The education department’s Chapter 33 was rewritten in 2012 to regulate the use of seclusion and restraint.

As defined by these rules, seclusion is the involuntary confinement of a student alone in a room or clearly defined area from which the student is physically prevented from leaving. Seclusion may be used only as an emergency intervention when the behavior of a student presents a risk of injury or harm to the student or others, and only after other “less intrusive interventions have failed or been deemed inappropriate.”

Seclusion doesn’t include students who place themselves in seclusion or request a quiet time alone, and it doesn’t have to take place in a designated space. Seclusion is not to be used as punishment, to control challenging behavior, to prevent property destruction and may not take place in a locked room. It is not to be used as a therapeutic or educational intervention.

The rules also require that parents be notified after physical restraint or seclusion occurs and requires it be documented in an incident report.

School departments using restraint and seclusion are required to have a local complaint process, and Chapter 33 allows parents dissatisfied with the results to file a complaint with the Department of Education. The education department has only received five complaints since 2013.

Ross’s son – the child who has benefited from the room – is now in fifth grade. He still copes with attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder among other challenges. He was first placed in the room in first grade.


Ross said it can be overwhelming at first to hear your child has been secluded in this room, but during a tantrum, it gets him away from his peers, so they don’t witness the explosive behavior.

Ross doesn’t have any safety concerns about the seclusion room but sees the room as a safety measure itself. As embarrassing as it is to hear your child was climbing doors and throwing things, it just takes one misstep before they are going to hurt someone else, she said.

“At home, if he’s going to get in one of these moods, I’m going to put him in his room,” Ross said. “I don’t find this any different than sending him to his room.”

Without a way to seclude students, “what are you going to put in place instead,” Ross said, thinking of the times she was told her son kicked a kid or hurt another student.

“You’ve got to find a way to do something and if you won’t want to restrain or seclude students, I don’t think there is another safe way to do it.”



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