Georgia schools ban seclusion rooms

Georgia public schools have outlawed the practice of placing students in solitary confinement, six years after a Hall County boy's schoolhouse hanging.

The State Board of Education voted Thursday to ban the use of solitary confinement and limit the use of restraints against unruly students.

For the first time, the state also will require schools to notify parents when their children have been restrained by a school administrator or teacher.

Brad Bryant, newly appointed state schools superintendent, said Georgia is "one of the first states in the nation to step forward aggressively" on the issue.

The state board worked for about two years developing the policy, which was supported by the parents of Jonathan King, a 13-year-old Hall County boy who hanged himself in 2004.

Jonathan was attending the Alpine Program, a public school in Gainesville for students with emotional and behavioral problems, when he killed himself with a cord a teacher gave him to hold up his pants.

His final hours were spent in an 8-by-8 seclusion room at the school. The room had no windows, bathroom, food or water.

The new state rules prohibit seclusion; the use of chemical restraints such as prescription psychotic drugs; mechanical restraints such as handcuffs; or prone restraints. With the latter, a student is placed face down on a floor or surface, and physical pressure is applied so the student can't get up.

Physical restraint would be limited under the new rule, except in situations where students are in imminent danger to themselves or others or are unresponsive to less intensive, calming techniques.

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan last July called for all states to review rules on restraints and seclusion. That followed congressional hearings and a report from the Government Accountability Office on deaths and abuse related to the use of seclusion and restraints.

School systems are not required to report how often they use restraints or seclusion, but Bryant said he expects a data collection system to be put in place.