Seclusion rooms in schools have come under scrutiny this week. The Department of Public Instruction announced it is investigating whether a Monroe school used its room properly, but staff from other schools says such rooms, when used correctly, calm and protect special needs students.
Middleton's Director of Student Services, Erin Kuehn, says "We've taken out lights; we've made it kind of a soothing area."
Somewhere special needs students can calm their senses.
"This part of the room may be used once or twice day depending on the student, depending on the day how things are going in their world."
Erin Kuehn understands that world better than most. Kuehn oversees the district's special education.
"We have sensory rooms at every building, we encourage the use of these kinds of devices and tools to help kids self manage," she says.
Inside this softer, gentler atmosphere is a mat, some toys, sometimes music and light weights.
"For some kids, these weights actually help put pressure on muscles and actually help them to calm down."
Nearby sits another space, what Kuehn calls a time out room.
It's designed for special needs students whose behavior is out of control, but is used rarely and only to maintain safety.
Kuehn says, "It does not go floor to ceiling on all sides, to kind of maintain ventilation for the kids, and so that it stays a comfortable place."
Kuehn says every special needs child has a specific program.
It includes how to use rooms like these, if necessary. And every time staff use this room, they document it.
"We can use that data to then say if this program isn't working, we need to redefine it and adjust it so student hopefully doesn't get to this stage again."
The state's Department of Public Instruction has guidelines on how districts use seclusion rooms, but a DPI team is now investigating whether staff at a Monroe school used its room appropriately.
Deputy State Superintendent Tony Evers says, "They will review several things relative to the paperwork of special education, individual education plans and documents that talk about training."
Back in Middleton, staff says students sometimes seek out the peace this sensory room offers them.
Kuehn says, "This is a place they want to come when they're feeling upset or anxious."
Federal law requires the DPI to complete its investigation in Monroe within 60 days.
You can find the DPI's guidelines on seclusion on the Internet at www.wisconsin.gov.