Illinois Bans Use of Isolated Time-Outs in School Discipline

November 25, 2019 Updated: November 25, 2019

The Illinois State Board of Education announced an emergency action to end placing children behind locked doors alone in school disciplinary actions, saying the practice has been “misused and overused to a shocking extent.”

“Isolated seclusion will end now; it traumatizes children, does lasting damage to the most vulnerable and violates the most deeply held values of my administration and the State of Illinois,” said Governor J.B. Pritzker, according to a Nov. 20 press release. “The use of this unacceptable practice in districts around the state for several years is appalling, and I am demanding complete and immediate accountability.”

Under the new rules, public school teachers would still be allowed to send misbehaving children to time-out rooms, but isolated time-outs would be banned. The state board said children would be put in time-out only if accompanied by a “trained adult” in a room that remains unlocked throughout the process. Time-outs also must be used only for therapeutic reasons or to protect the safety of students and staff, according to the press release.

In addition, the board announced it will begin investigating all known incidents of isolated seclusion in the past three years in Illinois schools in order to “take corrective action.​” It encouraged anyone with information about abusive time-out rooms or restraints in any school setting to report directly to the agency.

The announcement was made one day after Chicago Tribune and ProPublica Illinois published a report documenting thousands of instances of children, usually with special needs, placed in seclusion in their schools.

According to the Tribune-ProPublica report, several school district officials said they had not reviewed seclusion reports from their schools until reporters requested them. State officials had not previously monitored these practices either.

Such practices aren’t unique to Illinois. In many states where teachers rely on isolated seclusion and physical restraining to control children, schools are not obligated to notify parents about their children having been restrained or placed in a time-out room alone.

Earlier this year, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos announced the Department will review the use of “possible inappropriate use of restraint and seclusion” in American schools, especially among students with disabilities.

In a press release, DeVos said her department would work with The Office for Civil Rights and the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services to conduct a review of the quality of data collected from states and school districts, and work directly with school districts to provide technical support in creating and implementing effective and appropriate disciplinary policies.