School “Quiet Rooms”: Solitary Confinement For Children

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Reminiscent of the horror movie, “A Quiet Place” where those who lived in a world overrun by murderous creatures were forced into silence at the peril of their lives, “The Quiet Rooms” has the same ominous ring to it. And with good reason.

“Quiet Rooms” are rooms used by schools to seclude a student with “problem behaviors” in a (sometimes) padded cell behind a locked door. Horrifying, right?

It’s like solitary confinement, but for children. No, wait. Let me correct that. It IS solitary confinement.

For children.

As if the statistically proven school to prison pipeline isn’t enough, let’s get a 5-year-old used to being locked in a room as punishment! Sounds like a great idea.

Even the schools refer to it as “serving time.”

If that’s not enough, some school administrators and professionals who implement this practice call it just that, “serving time,” according to a report from the Chicago Tribune titled The Quiet Rooms.

Children were sent to isolation after refusing to do classwork, for swearing, for spilling milk, for throwing Legos. School employees use isolated timeout for convenience, out of frustration or as punishment, sometimes referring to it as “serving time.” (source)

Of course, the above commentary is dripping with sarcasm. This is yet another reason many parents have removed their children from the school system altogether.

In a haunting slide show, the Chicago Tribune shares the pleading voices of children begging to be let out of solitary confinement, otherwise known as “quiet rooms.”

Not to be confused with a voluntary sensory room which is designed for special needs students to decompress, “quiet rooms” lock a student alone in a cell. Sometimes the walls have padding sometimes they don’t. And much of their use against the student populations have been declared illegal.

Why are they putting kids in solitary confinement?

Officially the room was only supposed to be used if a student was violent.

The Chicago Tribune reported that schools use the rooms for safety reasons:

Without doubt, many of the children being secluded are challenging. Records show school employees struggling to deal with disruptive, even violent behavior, such as hitting, kicking and biting. Workers say that they have to use seclusion to keep everyone in the classroom safe and that the practice can help children learn how to calm themselves. (source)

However, they also reported that disability advocates decry the practice as traumatizing and harmful:

But disability advocates, special-education experts and administrators in school systems that have banned seclusion argue that the practice has no therapeutic or educational value, that it can traumatize children — and that there are better alternatives. (source)

The definition of “violence” has been misused to include disproportionate punishment for children with special needs. The U.S. Government Accountability Office released a report on K-12 Education: Federal Data and Resources on Restraint and Seclusion from February of 2019.

The report states the reason for the investigation is because of statistics showing a disproportionate number of boys and disabled individuals being punished by being locked in a cell at school. As a side note, a majority of persons with Autism are male.

[The U.S. Government Accountability office’s] work has shown that the use of restraint and seclusion in k-12 public schools nationwide is more prevalent among students with disabilities and boys. (source)

There are no real rules for this treatment.

The report goes on to say that the Accountability Office has issued only “guidance” with regard to using this form of punishment:

Education has issued guidance stating that restraint or seclusion should never be used except in situations where a child’s behavior poses imminent danger of serious physical harm to self or others. (pg. 1)

They also provide their own definition of “restraint” via seclusion: “Seclusion broadly refers to involuntarily confining a student alone in a room or area from which he or she cannot physically leave.“

In response to the abuse of children, they have “suggested” this alternative, “The federal government has encouraged the use of positive behavioral interventions and supports (PBIS) as alternatives to restraint and seclusion.“

Instead, “quiet rooms” were being used in Illinois for such minor infractions as spilling milk.

What are quiet rooms?

One example shared by NPR in 2019 explained what the “seclusions” rooms look like.

Many are built like Russian nesting dolls — rooms within rooms. The innermost room is reserved for students with more egregious behavior issues. That room is concrete and about the size of a closet. Inside, there are no chairs to sit on and the only window is on the door. (source)

On NPR, a woman shared a story about how her non-verbal special needs son was abused using this method of punishment.

“…repeated seclusions traumatized her son, causing him to hate school and making him more violent and distrusting of authority figures,” the report states.

“He would poop and pee himself to get out of the seclusion room — he was so desperate to get out,” she says. “This is a child who was completely potty trained since he was 5. … That to me, for a nonverbal person, that’s absolute desperation.” (source)

The pitiful cries as these children plead to be let out and their increasingly desperate actions are all noted down on thousands of handwritten reports. It’s enough to make you cry.

What’s being done to end this?

Some progress has been made towards eliminating this barbaric practice, but it’s not much. The Chicago Tribune reports:

No federal law regulates the use of seclusion, and Congress has debated off and on for years whether that should change. Last fall, a bill was introduced that would prohibit seclusion in public schools that receive federal funding. A U.S. House committee held a hearing on the issue in January, but there’s been no movement since.

Nineteen states prohibit secluding children in locked rooms; four of them ban any type of seclusion. But Illinois continues to rely on the practice. The last time the U.S. Department of Education calculated state-level seclusion totals, in 2013-14, Illinois ranked No. 1. (source)

Disability advocates are leading the charge in getting this abusive treatment banned. And the State of Illinois has reacted to this scandal, they are issuing “guidelines” for using these prison cells aka “quiet rooms”:

Informed of the investigation’s findings, the Illinois State Board of Education said it would issue guidance clarifying that seclusion should be used only in emergencies. Officials acknowledged they don’t monitor the use of isolated timeout and said they would need legislative action to do so. (source)

Most states have banned the practice, but Illinois has made little progress towards eliminating this abuse in school settings.

What could possibly go wrong?

One could raise the cry of, “false imprisonment” and “torture” when it comes to the treatment of these children, especially the ones with disabilities.

But, if solitary confinement is good enough for hardened criminals serving time in max security prisons, stands to reason that it’s good enough for middle schoolers, right?

Let’s just lock ‘em in a box and see what happens.

What do you think?

What do you think of this kind of punishment for children? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

About Jenny Jayne

Jenny Jayne is the mother of two wonderful boys on the Autism spectrum and is passionate about Autism Advocacy. She is a novelist who writes Post-apocalyptic fiction and a freelance writer. Her first novel is coming soon to Kindle eBooks near you. Her guilty pleasures are preparing for hurricanes, drinking hot coffee, eating milk chocolate, reading romances, and watching The Office for the 50th time. Her website:

Picture of Jenny Jayne

Jenny Jayne

About Jenny Jayne Jenny Jayne is the mother of two wonderful boys on the Autism spectrum and is passionate about Autism Advocacy. She is a novelist who writes Post-apocalyptic fiction and a freelance writer. Her first novel is coming soon to Kindle eBooks near you. Her guilty pleasures are preparing for hurricanes, drinking hot coffee, eating milk chocolate, reading romances, and watching The Office for the 50th time. Her website:

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  • Oh please, give a friggin break. This is what happens when states decided to stop funding psychiatric institutions. Now they freaks are out into the public defecating on the streets. Parents who are too strapped financially such that they must work two jobs each leave their children alone with the worst nanny that has come down the pike and that is Television. No one apparently wants to work with these troubled kids because it cost too much time and money, so they are mainstreamed and create havoc wherever they go.
    You can write all the articles you want young lady, but first you must take a damn good look at reality and what humans are. Humans are truly animals my friend, and if you don’t think so, may I suggest you go back to school and gain a real education, (if that is even possible now days) !!

  • Give them a selection of text books. These books will be their only possible activity. It is clear that putting kids or adults for that matter into a quiet place helps calm them down. Give them a healthy snack.
    My son got a degree in Science Education. He went out and worked in the schools with Junior High students. It was so frustrating, with the kids so uninterested in learning, loud, disruptive, rude, physically abusive to others, obnoxious, unwilling to learn anything, making it impossible for him to TEACH them anything, that after 3 years, he finally had enough; he left that field, got his MBA and now works for the Air Force. The problems are cultural, social, and financial. These kids do not want to attend school. Time out is the best way to deal with them. They are not trained by their parents, are not cognizant of “proper” behavior, are not intelligent (vaccines, anyone?) and there is no training them (paddles, anyone?) These kids are monsters.

  • Here in the uk my wife is a teacher.They have a similar system.There are no other sanctions for the times she has been sworn at,spat at in the face,punched,kicked,had a chair hit across her back…and STABBED!

    Sorry,but I have NO time for bleeding- hearts over this issue.There are no boundaries anymore,and in general the PARENTS are to blame,as they defer responsibility for the moral upbringing of their spawn to other people.

  • having spent 10 years of my nursing career working inpatient psych, i have much sympathy for the teachers in this situation. they don’t have enough help to handle disruptive children, whether that disruption is labelled anger management disorder, autism, schizophrenia, parental failure, etc.
    the state hospital where i worked had children’s units. they attended school on the hospital grounds where they wreeked havoc in the classrooms. (the law says they must be educated and mainstreamed maximally). one 15 year old decided to kill his teacher. it took 4 of us to peel him off of her. we were all hurt. the teacher never returned to work. my shoulder injury eventually required surgery and was never strong enough to allow me to work as a nurse again.
    that kid, and many of the others, did not benefit from the expensive school set up. two highly educated people could not work in their fields anymore. three other seasoned, trained and licensed people had injuries that caused lost work time. the physical plant and the school and hospital employees were resources that were poorly used. this is your tax dollars at work! inpatient mental health commitments cost about 5 times as much money as jails do–and it isn’t nearly enough to do the good we would do in a perfect world. that’s why time outs are tolerated. some of these kids might be helped by taking away resources from other programs–maybe gifted & talented, sports, music, art, STEM. that would help the few at the expense of the many.
    sadly, some can’t be helped at all.

  • I can’t believe what I’m reading in the comments. Did you people miss the part where they put little kids in these rooms for things as trivial spilling their milk?

    I hope you aren’t parents.

  • My wife worked as a special education teacher in a state hospital in California for over a decade before the “brilliant” politicians decided to mainstream all the mentally and physically handicapped patients into the regular school system and closed down the state hospital system. In doing so, they have caused untold havoc, injuries to staff and destruction of expensive school equipment when the “little darlings” decide to go ballistic and destroy everything and everyone in their way. My wife would tell me horror stories about not being allowed to touch the out-of-control child per state law. All she could do was try to get in the child’s way to try to redirect them. If a child went ballistic in a classroom, all the other kids were taken out of the room and the child was allowed to destroy everything in the classroom – including expensive electronic “reader boards” and computers – because no one was allowed to touch the “little s.o.b.” And people wonder why the schools are always begging for more money. Gotta replace all that expensive gear don’t you know so that the next out-of-control child can bust it all up again.

    So, spare me the sob story about the poor put-upon children. Granted, some of the punishment doesn’t fit the crime (spilled milk, etc.) but, in the majority of the cases putting a child in a padded room until they calm down is really the only logical and sensible thing to do. BTW, when a child is put into the room, there is always a special-Ed teacher or aide sitting at the door keeping an eye on them so that they don’t hurt themselves.

    Oh, and let’s not forget that my wife and her compatriots have also suffered physical injuries attempting to prevent the “little darlings” from raising hell. Again, your tax dollars at work when the staff need physical care and time off to recover from their injuries.

    Finally, next time let’s make sure we hear from both sides of this story before attempting to tug at heartstrings.

  • I was an elementary teacher for 30 years, subbed both elementary and middle/junior/high school for quite a few after that. So I’ve been there. I can certainly see two sides here–and a lot of it does depend on HOW this “quiet room” is used. Used “correctly,” this might be no different to my putting a child just outside my classroom door (but in my line of sight) to settle down (quit whining, shouting, annoying another, etc.) Usually, my comment to the child was, “Let me know when you are back in control and feel ready to join us again.” Or if this didn’t happen, I’d invite him/her back in about 5 minutes. (But for spilling milk???? Even with first graders, generally, having to do the clean-up themselves was enough!)

    Bear in mind that generally any “time out” punishment (time-out chair, etc.) should allow no more than 1 minute for each year old the child is. I wonder if these “quiet rooms” use any such guideline. Or if the child is given any way of letting the person supposed to be watching them, know that s/he is ready to be civil again; and if they *do* agree to behave, are they given that second chance, or left in there?

    As for truly dangerous behavior–that does go into a completely different category. I could see moving a child who has tried to hurt someone, into one of these rooms, but only until other arrangements can be made.

    (For what it’s worth–I loved the kids, but I’m glad I’m not teaching any more…)

  • Thank you to those that commented supporting teachers. I am a kindergarten teacher. I have been stabbed. YES, stabbed, kicked, hit, bit, spit at as well as called names that would make a roughneck blush, as well as had to listen, with the behaving students, one or more children screaming at the top of their lungs because they didn’t get the pencil they wanted, or because they didn’t get the the marker they wanted. I am financially unable to retire, so go back day after day. And no this is NOT Special Ed. This is regular Ed. Teachers have no power any longer. We are to give the children “good boy tickets” “and they will get better.” They will behave. HHHMMM, I have had children eat the tickets, so they don’t care about them. Some of our schools in our district have “scream” rooms, but they are mostly used for storage now. Many parents send their children to school to get a good education. Then there are children of parents who don’t care, are on drugs, or angry sending their children to school. As teachers we have to deal with them all and still keep ALL the children’s scores at or above grade level. This is difficult when we have to evacuate the classroom more than once a week due to a violent, screaming child for over an hour at a time. All the children are traumatized as well as the teacher. The one who gets counseling is the one causing the trauma. I do not agree with isolation for spilling milk. I do agree for those who refuse to control their voices and actions. First parents then their children need to be responsible for their actions. The liberalism of education has destroyed our educational system. Johnny cant be suspended for beating on a teacher/principal/ or other student because they have an IEP, or they are “well tanned”. Let me give the children consequences and or the parent gives consequences at home. If they are violent to another person or destroy the classroom no matter what color their skin is, suspend or expel them. This pampering of American kids has got to stop.

  • Unless you are a teacher in any classroom across America, you have no right to throw stones. I taught for over 30 years, and I can tell you that the last 5 years were pure hell. I felt the worst for kids to whom I could not give proper attention because I spent a lot of time on discipline.
    The larger issue here is how many students do not get proper instruction because of the rabble’s behavior. I fear for our country after seeing how little pupils really know about the 3 R’s.

  • I have three kids from 3-16 none has ever stepped foot in a government indoctrination camp (public schools) I personally didn’t allow it because they teach paper is money,(ask a poor person what money is) well the results are in, can you say early retirement.

  • I am not a teacher, but I have several friends and a few family members who are.
    Their accounts reflect what many of the teachers here have commented on.
    While I do not like the idea of Solitary confinement, it may be (by local or state laws) the only way a school system can deal with disruptive children. Legally.
    However, it can be abused like any kind of corrective behavior mechanism. Personally I would like to see the details behind the “spilled milk” incident.
    I think we are trying to deal with a symptom and not the source. Hence it will continue to be an issue.
    What is the source? Broken families (children without a father figure)? Diet? Uninterested/disinterested parents who cannot be bothered with parenting as it interrupts their Facebook/cat video time and rather foist parenting on teachers? Electronic devices? Lack of physical activity? Helicopter parents whom refuse to discipline their children in any form?
    None of the above? Some of the above? All the above?
    And before anyone accuses me of be racist, I have seen it at white middle and upper-class families too.

  • I know it would be very difficult for many parents, but if possible, take your kids out of government schools. Send them to private school or home school. Our “educational” system is a joke; it is an indoctrinational system. Why do you think young millennials believe in socialism?

  • I was just at my son’s elementary school. While walking up I could hear screaming and cursing going on. It was loud and disruptive! I signed in, walked to my son’s class noticing all of the over turned furniture in the hallway. Apparently the cafeteria ran out of OJ and this child lost it. Another was really angry that the breakfast line was too long so he went screaming and cussing down the opposite hall throwing chairs and desks. At some point, you need to take a step back and think about the safety of the other children. At our school they destroyed the quiet room, ripped the baseboards off the wall tore the mats down, etc. Would you want a child that is this angry to be in the classroom? I have seen them destroy classrooms also and had to help a girl get out of the path of a flying chair. Quit codling and help them develop the skills they need, and yes that means some time away to calm down and think about their actions and how they affected others!

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