Washington lawmakers mostly mum on 'isolation room' policy

LONGVIEW, Wash. - Just a few days after a Longview elementary school removed a controversial isolation room, state lawmakers and school district officials met Wednesday but the issue wasn't even discussed.

KATU broke the story more than a week ago after a parent, questioning its use, sent it photographs of the isolation room at Mint Valley Elementary Room that looked like a padded box.

The school used the room for four years as a place for special education children to calm down without harming themselves or others. It was only used with a parent's approval.

After the meeting, held annually to discuss possible future legislation, state Sen. Brian Hatfield, who represents Longview, said he didn't believe state lawmakers have any place intervening in the isolation room policy. He feels the issue should be decided by local school districts.

The state of Oregon has taken a different approach. As of this past summer, Oregon law limits the situations in which isolation rooms can be used and can only be used as a last resort in situations where children are at risk of hurting themselves or others. Washington state provides regulations but does not limit use to that situation.

The Longview School District is investigating complaints from parents, accusing staff of using the rooms to discipline students who were never authorized to go into the room. The district is also discussing for the first time the specific changes it could make as it plans to rebuild another isolation room.

"We're studying experts, specialists who advise on this type of structure," said district spokeswoman Sandy Catt. "Perhaps it might be larger. Have additional observation into it. I just don't know specifically what those plans will look like. It could have a larger viewing portal."

There is no timeline on when that new isolation room will be built. The investigation into Longview schools is ongoing and could last for several weeks.

KATU News contacted half a dozen state lawmakers representing southwest Washington Wednesday, some of whom were at the meeting, but none of them would comment on the issue.

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