District to nix intervention rooms

RENO — The Washoe County School District said it will discontinue using small intervention rooms for students with disabilities after receiving a report from an advocacy group.

People First of Nevada, which advocates for those with developmental disabilities, released a report in July that found that children are isolated in the rooms at some district schools. The intervention rooms are for timeout or quiet time, but the group said that some children are forced to go in the rooms and are prevented from leaving.

“We had some isolated issues that have come to my attention and are being addressed,” district Superintendent Pedro Martinez told the Reno Gazette-Journal.

He said that the district is addressing “inherited” mistakes regarding children with disabilities and that it’s reorganizing its special education department.

The district has spent the past three months reviewing 50 of its 93 schools. A report will be presented to the school board on Tuesday.

District officials will recommend that all of the intervention rooms within classrooms be converted into storage space and any rooms in hallways or other offices become “inviting and warm places” where students have a choice about leaving or entering, the Gazette-Journal reported.

The rooms are more harmful than beneficial, said Dr. Michael George, the executive director of a Pennsylvania school that caters to children with emotional issues and autism.

“If you gently reinforce a child and know how to not escalate behavior, you don’t need these rooms,” he said.

George said the rooms are still used in schools throughout the United States.

Nevada law does not allow schools to put children with disabilities in rooms that they’re physically prevented from leaving, said Jessica Butler of the Autism National Committee.

But the law doesn’t address perceptions of authority that may keep a child in a room, said Jeremy Hagblom, who said his 6-year-old daughter, who has autism, was put in a timeout at her Reno elementary school.

“A child put in a room by an adult doesn’t know they can leave,” Hagblom said.

Frank Selvaggio, the Washoe County School District director of student support services, oversaw the district’s review of the rooms. He said he’s recommending the board boost training and support for schools.

He also plans to recommend the district create a training video for administrators and staff about the intervention rooms.


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