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Is Your Kid Getting Locked in a Broom Closet at School? It's Actually Possible

By Madeline Holler |

extreme discipline, childhood education

Extreme discipline? It's happening more than you think.

Imagine the pain dad Bill Lichtenstein felt when he found his 5-year-old daughter locked in a basement broom closet, naked in a pool of pee. Not while accidentally playing at grandma’s house; not playing around over at her friend’s house. She was at school.

Not church school, not crazy cult school, not backwater spare-the-rod home-school, but school school. Public school. In Lexington, Mass. And this wasn’t her first time in the closet.

Lichtenstein writes about the growing dependency many public schools have on so-called “seclusion rooms” in the New York Times Op-Ed section. Some 40,000 kids were put in physical restraints or locked away in designated areas in the 2009-2010 school year, he reports, often as a first response to non-compliance rather than the very last resort. (Though I’d argue locking a kid away at school isn’t even an option on the last-resort menu.)

Some notorious cases offered in his piece:

Children in Middletown, Conn., told their parents that there was a “scream room” in their school where they could hear other children who had been locked away. Last December, Sandra Baker of Harrodsburg, Ky., found her fourth-grade son, Christopher, who had misbehaved, stuffed inside a duffel bag, its drawstrings pulled tight, and left outside his classroom. He was “thrown in the hall like trash,” she told me. And in April, Corey Foster, a 16-year-old with learning disabilities, died on a school basketball court in Yonkers, N.Y., as four staff members restrained him following a confrontation during a game. The medical examiner ruled early last month that the death was from cardiac arrest resulting from the student’s having an enlarged heart, and no charges were filed.

Lichtenstein quotes an expert on these kinds of techniques. Research has concluded that they are not an effective means of changing behavior. Basically, they just get the kid out of the room.

In Lichtenstein’s daughter’s case, she had been to the basement broom closet “almost daily for three months.” The girl had been suffering nightmares at home, and when the parents asked the school for insight, they didn’t mention the room. It’s only when he and his wife came pick her up – because the girl was naked – that they even learned their girl had been punished in this way.

It’s unbelievable that a school would set up a seclusion room in the first place – especially one that’s so bleak: dangling lightbulb, concrete floors, no chair or table or crayons or human contact for the kid – and also that the school wouldn’t tell parents each and every time a child was sent there. How can they do that without a parent’s consent? How can that not be a known discipline technique at a school?

This isn’t about a rogue teacher or school, considering how much this is apparently going on. This is about a complete disregard for a child’s welfare. I also think this is about a deep ignorance of children, their development, their needs and whether expectations for them at school are really aligned with their age. If Lichtenstein’s daughter is being punished, as a kindergartener,  for getting fidgety in class, well, there’s a problem. Kindergarteners are fidgety. They shouldn’t need to sit still all day.

Lichtenstein’s daughter is getting psychological help for the trauma she suffered. She’s in a new school. But what about her old school? Is that room still one of their discipline solutions? What other schools are out there doing that?

Federal guidelines recommended no longer using restraints or seclusion on kids, but is a recommendation enough? Congress has apparently considered a ban. Why is there no will to go ahead and outlaw these outdated and ineffective and dangerous techniques?


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About Madeline Holler


Madeline Holler

Madeline Holler is a writer, journalist, and blogger. She has written for Babble since the site launched in 2006. Her writing has appeared in various other publications both online and in print, including Salon and True/Slant (now Forbes). A native of the Midwest, Madeline lives, writes, and parents in Southern California, where she's raising two daughters and a son. Read bio and latest posts → Read Madeline's latest posts →

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10 thoughts on “Is Your Kid Getting Locked in a Broom Closet at School? It's Actually Possible

  1. Rich says:

    This is all well and good. I’m sure that this was not what they were doing when we went through school years ago. This is a direct result of Schools running out of options due directly to any form of Discipline that has been used, complained and litigated against by Parents. I do not think this is ideal, but instead of a Whine of “WE CAN’T DO THAT” This article really needs to put forth any workable solution. Anyone can complain. Public Schools are full of Special needs Children. They were there when I went through also, but they were not Labeled as such. Parenting and discipline were expected in school. Today we abandon our Children to the schools and expect teachers to raise not only your kid but 30 others without any means of discipline. The reason he was not aware this was going on was that he was not involved in his kids life and school enough to know what goes on on a daily basis. I’m also sure that the disciplinary code is spelled out in the School’s handbook. They are sent home with the students every year. Last of all, He is also a film maker. Expect to see a brand new SHOCKING Documentary on this any day now.

  2. Ron Merckling says:

    In the late 1970s, I was locked in a closet at school for the entire school day on many school days. The closet had a one way glass mirror window on the door so I could be watched but could not see out. There was a desk that could barely fit. I was was placed in special education and did not graduate high school until I was 20. I had no parental support as well. I feel grateful for my very successful adult life. I resent my childhood and feel that the abuse and neglect I received at home and in school remains incomprehensible to me even to this day.

  3. DeathMetalMommy says:

    This terrifies me. Was there any mention on why this child was naked? Was that part of the punishment as well?

  4. Manjari says:

    There is just no excuse for this. It is so unspeakably awful. Every single adult in that school who knew anything about it should be fired. The adult who actually put the child in solitary confinement while she was naked should do jail time.

  5. G says:

    I’m sick to my stomach. Disgraceful.

  6. Sanriobaby =^.^= says:

    It’s amazing that schools are allowed to do this to students. If this child’s parents did the exact same thing to her in their own home daily, they would have their child taken away for neglect and abuse by child welfare services. WHY WAS THIS CHILD NAKED? WHAT EXACTLY DID SHE DO TO BE PLACED IN THIS ROOM DAILY AND WAS SHE ALWAYS NAKED IN THIS ROOM? WHY WASN’T THE TEACHER/PRINCIPLE REQUIRED TO NOTIFY THE PARENTS THAT THEIR CHILD WAS BEING PUNISHED THIS WAY AND IF THEY FELT THAT THIS PUNISHMENT NEEDED TO BE DONE DAILY WHY DIDN’T THEY ASK THE PARENTS TO COME IN? I hope this story gets on the nightly news very soon and that this family sues the school. I also hope that parents pull together and make this type of punishment illegal.

    When picking your child/ren’s school, not only do parents have to question the type of acdemic programs the school offers, but they MUST question the types of disciplinary actions they take, even in a worst case senario. Parents must be proactive in their child’s lives, don’t just ask how thier day was, especially with younger children. Ask specific questions, like who got in trouble and how were they diciplined by the teacher? Make it a point to contact your child’s teacher to ask them how your child is doing and personally offer your contact info if they feel your child is having an issue that needs to be addressed. Teachers who know which parents are REALLY involved will less likely take advantage, neglect, or bully your child.

  7. Sully says:

    Child was naked because she had to go to the bathroom and didn’t want to soil her clothes.

    my school system can’t keep control in the classes unless the students voluntarily agree to behave. Due to the lawsuits the schools do not enforce discipline. Basically can not enforce discipline without being sued. Who is with me and will stand up for childen being denied an education due to the everyday distractions non disciplined kids are causing.

    Can any of you who are REALLY REALLY mad at hearing about this provide any way that a school could enforce discipline that would not be litigated against? Would love to hear some non silly realworld options that would not take all of the teacher’s time nor further burden a broke school system.

  8. lam says:

    Some non-silly options would be to have fewer children per class, well educated and well trained nurses and child psychologists on staff, and teachers who are also well educated, well trained, and well supported by their communities and administrators, and accountable to same. Well funded and well staffed aftercare programs and support for parents would also help raise kids who are more able to cope with adversity and successful integration into a classroom and school. But, all of that costs money, and our nation would apparently rather spend it fighting wars and subsidizing farming and fighting marijuana possession.
    Many people use incidents like this to reminisce about the good old days of spanking and high expectations of children. These people would do well to consider how the classroom and the school have also changed since then, not just the parents and the society. It’s true that back in the day there was less pandering, more discipline, and greater expectations. It is also true that schools were smaller, classes smaller, parents less divorced and teachers better compensated, not to mention publicly funded special education and vocational schools and societal and parental acceptance that not every kid is going to succeed in school.

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