Aug 8, 2023 - Politics

Seclusion rooms for student discipline at Denver middle school face scrutiny

Illustration of a school desk surrounded by caution tape

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The allegations that a Denver middle school used a seclusion room to isolate children with behavioral issues are raising concerns at the state level.

Driving the news: State Rep. Regina English, a Colorado Springs Democrat and Harrison school board member, said Monday she would introduce legislation next year to ban seclusion rooms in schools, our education reporting partners at Chalkbeat write.

  • English said they are akin to being incarcerated, adding that students "are not caged animals, and I will not allow them to be treated as such."

Why it matters: The remarks escalate a controversy within Denver Public Schools about student discipline and the firing of the McAuliffe International School principal.

Catch up quick: Superintendent Alex Marrero fired principal Kurt Dennis earlier this summer after he spoke publicly about the district requiring school staff to conduct searches of at-risk students.

  • The district said he was fired for releasing personal information about a student, but his termination letter noted accusations about treating students with disabilities unfairly.
  • Mayor Michael Johnston came to Dennis' defense, criticizing Marrero's decision in a private text message, 9News reports.

Between the lines: Since then, Denver school board members Auon'tai Anderson and Scott Esserman took the unusual step of making public anonymous complaints about a seclusion room at the school that locked from the outside.

What's new: Denver school officials told parents in an email that district policy prohibits seclusion rooms where students are left alone or locked inside, though some campuses have de-escalation rooms where students can go to calm down. All staff will receive new training before school starts this month.

  • Denver police are investigating, and an advocacy organization wants the state to conduct its own review.
  • Interim principal Micah Klaver was placed on paid administrative leave, district officials confirmed.

Of note: Colorado law allows seclusion rooms if students are a danger to themselves or others.

  • A new law signed last year bans locking children in broom closets and offices and requires seclusion rooms to have a window or other way for adults to watch the student.

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