Editorial: Time’s up for time-outs

The way to discipline a child — even a child with a learning disability — is by isolating, sometimes locking, that child alone in a room. And it’s OK if that room is a converted janitor’s closet, complete with cleaning products and smelly paint.

At least, that’s what some educators seem to think.

Educational experts are saying that teachers are using so-called “time-out rooms” with increasing frequency — even for special-needs children — a move they say might be outright abusive.

Though it’s uncertain whether all time-out rooms are inappropriate forms of discipline, it’s clear from several high-profile examples that these rooms need to be scrutinized.

Take, for example, the case of 8-year-old Isabel Loeffler. According to The Associated Press, the girl, who is autistic, did not complete a reading assignment and was subsequently sent to a time-out room — which was actually an old custodial shed under a staircase — for three hours, where “she wet herself before she was finally allowed to leave.”

In Stroudsburg, Penn., the Pocono Record reported that school board officials acted shadily about the presence of time-out rooms in the district. After denying the existence of these rooms, the board reversed “claims made by the district’s lawyers that no such room existed” two weeks later.

Parents said their children were sent so frequently to time-out rooms that they missed significant portions of class time calling the rooms “overused” and problematic.

Another example, detailed in the Christian Science Monitor, involved a special-education student who was placed in a time-out room and then “rammed his body against the steel-reinforced door and banged his head on the cement-block walls, pleading to get out.”

And in Kentucky, WAVE 3 TV reported that one autistic student was locked in a closet-sized time-out room 97 times.

Though this editorial board does not have expertise in childhood education or psychology, it is not outside the bounds of pragmatism and common sense to recognize that such treatment of special-needs children is inexcusable.

For starters, the level of physical disturbance in these cases is staggering — something about these rooms seems to upset these children extensively. And from the repeated use of the rooms in these cases, it’s unclear whether this level of distress has any positive disciplinary outcome that would justify it.

An expert in special education told the AP that these rooms are abusive and that such action is “going to do nothing to change the behavior. You’re using it as an isolation booth.”

Educators quoted by the AP said time-out rooms can be useful if used “sparingly” and coupled with social and psychological training, but in the cases above — some of which have resulted in costly lawsuits for school districts — this is clearly not what is happening.

Outrages involving the use of time-out rooms require that their use be questioned and analyzed extensively, if said rooms are to be used at all.