In a press conference on Monday, the board provided new updates after a whistleblower exposed an alleged “incarceration room” at McAuliffe International School.
Auon’tai Anderson, the vice president of the Board of Education, said Democratic Rep. Regina English, from El Paso County District 17, will sponsor a bill that would ban seclusion rooms in K-12 schools across Colorado.
Colorado has restrictions on seclusion rooms
English spoke with FOX31’s Gabrielle Franklin about why she believes now is the time for the state to take on this change.
“We know that some students need to be restrained so they’re not causing harm to themselves or causing harm to someone else when they are in distress, but to just put a young person in this room, put a latch on it and lock it — and we all saw pictures of what this space actually looked like — that’s very inhumane. So, some things for me are just nonnegotiable. and this is one of them,” English said.
Last spring, Gov. Jared Polis signed a law that lays out how these rooms can be used. If a school in Colorado is using one of these rooms, it must have a window or camera where students can be monitored while inside. The law also requires parental notification if physical restraints are used to seclude the student, and seclusion rooms must be free of items students could use to hurt themselves.
DPS board members at the Monday news conference told FOX31 the language for the proposed bill is already moving through the drafting process. English said she is optimistic the bill has enough support to pass next year.
Whistleblower exposes ‘incarceration room’
On Aug. 3, Anderson said a total of seven whistleblowers shared information on the room. The room was described as having locks on doors and windows that would prevent people from leaving.
On Monday, Anderson also said the former principal of McAuliffe International School admitted to placing a lock on the outside of the door while placing students alone inside. The former principal also said he never received guidance from the board on how to place the lock, according to Anderson.
Kurt Dennis has been the principal at McAuliffe since the school opened 12 years ago. He believed he was fired after giving an interview criticizing Denver Public Schools’ policy to have administrators pat down students who need extra security screenings.
Anderson said whistleblowers told him that students were dragged into the “incarceration room” where they screamed and cried to be let out. Multiple administrators were placed in front of the room to keep it shut.
“The fact that the room was called an ‘incarceration room’ by a staff member at the school in a work order to have it removed says enough,” Anderson said.
“Students of color were locked in this room multiple times last year,” the anonymous whistleblower stated in the email, according to Anderson.
Denver Public Schools prohibits rooms like this, which it formally refers to as “seclusion rooms” in its written policies. The term “de-escalation room” was also used during a Thursday news conference with board members, which the district describes as an open-door quiet room to help a student regulate emotions, but only with the company of an adult.
FOX31’s Gabrielle Franklin contributed to this report.