Lawmakers take up issue of school isolation rooms

Lawmakers take up issue of school isolation rooms
OLYMPIA, Wash. -- A bill putting more restrictions on the use of isolation rooms in schools is moving ahead at the state legislature, but the parents of a little girl who was put in one of those rooms say the measure doesn't go far enough.

Seven-year-old Jenna is autistic, and sometimes she acts out in school. Her parents say she has a routine that helps keep her calm.

"They had changed multiple things in her routine and set her off, basically, and then threw her in the room," said Jenna's dad, Jim McCracken.

The room at Elma Elementary School was an isolation setting. The McCracken family says she was in the room for three-and-a-half hours, with a staff members just outside.

"Putting her in a little room with no windows, I don't think is benefiting her at all," said Jenna's mom, Mandy McCracken. "I think it just makes her want to act out more."

The state legislature is considering a bill that would establish a system for reporting incidents of student restraint and isolation in public schools. Parents would have to be told right away.

"All they are looking for is the opportunity to be notified," said Rep. Sharon Tomiko-Santos, D-Seattle.

That's not good enough for the McCracken family.

"Yes, they can notify the parent, but even if the parent says no and they still do it anyways. It's just, what's the sense?" Jim McCracken said.

The family doesn't believe the rooms are a good idea, even if they're also for the protection of other children and staff members.

"These rooms are very important, because it keeps her safe from when the autistic kids have meltdowns. It keeps them safe, and keeps others safe so they're not injured," said Katherine Lynch, whose daughter is a special-needs student.

The isolation room in Longview that gained national attention is no longer used, and the parents of the child who was put in there are now suing.

The House Education Committee approved the bill, and it will now head to the full house for a vote.