District 117 Superintendent Steve Ptacek says that the new child restraint and time out laws have gone overboard in enforcement. Ptacek says that the Illinois State Board of Education’s knee jerk reaction to an investigative report by ProPublica on November 19th that spurred the new rules that bans isolated timeouts and certain types of physical restraint has placed school districts in flux on how to enforce rules when it comes to particular behaviors: “ISBE went overboard, and they basically put a limitation that all forms of ‘time out’ – removal of a kid from other students – is not allowed. This is potentially no in-school suspension, no lunchtime detentions, no putting a kid to stand out in the hallway to calm down or wait on me to come talk to them. All of those things have been happening in schools for a long time. ‘The pit’ is questionable as to whether we are legally able to have it right now. We’ve gotten different arguments from our attorneys on it. Then, it comes down to if you use it, there’s a lengthy form that you have to fill out.”
Ptacek says the rule change is intrusive and causes too much confusion: “It gets to the point of what are our options. Our options are either to excuse the behavior or to start out-of-school suspensions. They have removed a tool that we’ve been using, and as of Wednesday of this week, we felt that was the response. We have had a review from an attorney saying not to fully jump to that conclusion yet. It’s not expanding into those methods. It’s not clear. There is another attorney group that’s saying that because it’s not clear, the district needs to respond. I’ve been over two decades in education and this is easily the most ridiculous piece of legislation or directive that I’ve ever seen.”
The Illinois House has passed the measure but the Senate has not yet made it permanent school code. However, Illinois schools are being forced to abide by the new law under a 150-day directive mandated by the Illinois State Board of Education. Ptacek describes the quandary that school districts are in with the directive any further: “A kid tells a teacher to ‘f off’ – an elementary kid. Go down to the principal’s office and have a lunch detention in the principal’s office. That is somehow not appropriate and it is damaging kids? In school suspension with ‘The Pit,’ the school has been doing that for decades. We’re removing accountability and that’s a major concern. There is an article that came out recently that said the rate of teachers getting assaulted is drastically increasing. This is at a time that we’re talking about teacher shortages. I don’t think it’s retirement. I think right now it’s a tough career to go into.”
Ptacek says that currently elementary schools don’t have a seclusion room like “the pit” at the high school, but they have a seclusion table in the principal’s office away from school mates when they have behavioral issues. Ptacek says that the ideas that seclusion is not a bad idea to teach children how to adapt properly to social environments and that the practice isn’t misguided. He also said that he can see how it has been abused in some districts and those corrections need to be made.
Ptacek says that the district is in a defensible position for their seclusion policies for in-school suspension and lunch detentions for the time being. Ptacek hopes that lawmakers will deal with the specific problems of abuse of the policy rather than placing mandates on the whole state.
The governor’s office filed complaints against the eight school districts named in the ProPublica and Chicago Tribune report, prompting the state Board of Education to open investigations in those districts. ISBE investigators have said that those school employees who are believed to have committed alleged crimes against children will be referred to law enforcement or to the Department of Children and Family Services. Since the report was released on November 19th, no arrests or sanctions have been reported on any school district in the state for abuse of the restraint and seclusion system.