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IDEA Complaint Decision 15-061

On October 28, 2015, the Department of Public Instruction (department) received a complaint under state and federal special education law from XXXXX against the Sheboygan Area School District. This is the department’s decision regarding that complaint. The issue is whether the district, during the 2015-16 school year, used improper seclusion procedures.

Under Wisconsin law, “seclusion” is defined as “the involuntary confinement of a student, apart from other students, in a room or area from which the student is physically prevented from leaving.” The use of seclusion in public schools is prohibited unless a student’s behavior presents a clear, present, and imminent risk to the physical safety of the student or to others, and it is the least restrictive intervention feasible. Seclusion must be used no longer than necessary to resolve the risk to the physical safety of the student or others, and the student must not be required to complete a task before the seclusion ends.

Whenever a student’s individualized education program (IEP) team reasonably anticipates seclusion may be used with a student with a disability, the use must be clearly specified in the student’s IEP, and the IEP must include positive behavioral interventions, supports, and strategies based on a functional behavioral assessment (FBA).

On November 25, 2015, the department’s investigator visited the student’s school to inspect the student’s classroom and interview school staff members who work with the student.  The student is placed full time in a special education classroom.  The student’s classroom is a large open space containing “centers” for various activities.  Attached to the classroom, via a door, is a smaller room school staff describe as a “sensory” room.  The sensory room has padded walls, and is equipped with various therapeutic devices and incandescent lighting.  The sensory room is open and available to all of the special education students in the classroom if they choose to use it.  The room is also used on occasion for instructional purposes when noise and activity levels in the larger classroom become excessive. The room is not used for seclusion of students.  School staff report the student was in the sensory room on at least one occasion with a teacher and other students for instruction, and may have used the room voluntarily on other occasions. At no time was the student physically prevented from leaving the room.  School staff also reported that the student has never exhibited any behavior which would cause them to reasonably anticipate a need to seclude the student. As the student was neither involuntarily confined to the sensory room nor physically prevented from leaving, the district did not use improper seclusion procedures.

This concludes our review of this complaint, which we are closing.

//signed CST 12/14/2015
Carolyn Stanford Taylor
Assistant State Superintendent
Division for Learning Support