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Michael Phelan
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Special Ed Child Kills Self After Being Forced By His School Into Seclusion Cell

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This is a sad story of the wrongful death of a 13 year-old child who needed help from his special ed school but got a form of torture. A few weeks before a 13-year-old north Georgia special education student killed himself, he told his parents that his teachers had put him in "time-out." Understandably, his parents thought this meant their son had to sit in a chair in a quiet area for a few minutes.

Shockingly, however, time-out in the boy’s north Georgia special education school was spent in something akin to a prison cell — a concrete room latched from the outside, its tiny window obscured by a piece of paper. Called a seclusion room, it’s where in November 2004, this special student hanged himself with a cord a teacher gave him to hold up his pants.

I am the chairman of the board of a private special education school, and know that the vast majority of professionals who dedicate their careers to special education are angels. I am becoming increasingly aware of and alarmed by the horrific exceptions to this rule. Child abuse in schools and treatment facilities which cater to the most fragile members of society, learning challenged children, is far too common. I am aware of one such case in which the institution adverstises itself as having expertise in providing healing services for severely abused children. One family alleges that this institution has no such expertise, and that it purposely employed abusive behavior toward a child in order to force the child to confront his past abuse. The alleged result is that the child is now so traumatized he cannot cope with the public.

Seclusion rooms, sometimes called time-out rooms, are used across the nation, generally for special needs children. Critics say that along with the death of the above-referenced child, many mentally disabled and autistic children have been injured or traumatized.

Few states have laws on using seclusion rooms, though 24 states have written guidelines, according to a 2007 study conducted by a Clemson University researcher. Please contact your local legislators and lobby for laws banning the use of abusive seclusion rooms on our innocent special needs children. They should not be treated like enemy combatants. My heart goes out to the parents of this poor boy. I know from personal experience they fought extra hard to get their child to where he was by age 13. In many ways, that must make his passing even more difficult.