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Governor says new law is first step in dealing with school isolation rooms

Gov. Jan Brewer signed a bill into law Wednesday requiring parental consent for unruly school children to be placed in isolation rooms.

Brewer said in a letter to the Legislature’s leaders and bill’s sponsor that the new law, passed as HB2476, is just the starting point in deciding policy on the use of the rooms.

According to a 2009 report by the U.S. General Accountability Office, restraints and seclusion are typically used in programs for students with special needs. Teachers and doctors contend that the method actually protects children who are in the throes of an emotional outburst and maintains order in the classroom.

But the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Kelly Townsend, R-Mesa, revealed in committee hearings how some schools are simply using the rooms for routine discipline and at times leaving children in them for hours at a time. It’s unknown how widely they are used, but the committee hearings left lawmakers openly disgusted by their use and some calling for an outright ban.

“It is critical that we learn more about this issue, as well as the best management techniques used in other states to properly manage an out-of-control student who may be a threat to him or herself, classmates or teachers,” Brewer wrote.

Brewer asked Townsend to continue working on the issue by bringing together parents and behavioral health experts to craft legislation for next year.

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