New Hanover County Board of Education votes to end use of seclusion rooms

After a unanimous vote from the Board of Education, a new policy is going into effect for New Hanover County Schools, ending the use of seclusion rooms.
Published: Nov. 1, 2022 at 11:22 PM EDT
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WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - After a unanimous vote from the Board of Education, a new policy is going into effect for New Hanover County Schools, ending the use of seclusion rooms.

“We’re only using seclusion in emergency situations at the end of this school year,” said Board Chairperson Stephanie Kraybill. “We really are trying not to use them now. It’s not written in policy but that is what we’re working towards.”

For the 2023-2024 school year, seclusion rooms will not be permitted whatsoever, though seclusion will still be used in rare cases.

“Seclusion means the confinement of a student in an enclosed space from which they’re prevented from leaving, by lock or other means — could also be direction not to leave,” explained a staff member at Tuesday night’s meeting.

The change is not what some in the crowd hoped for.

“Every time you decide to seclude a child, you are definitely creating a pipeline to prison which is not giving them hope for the future,” said Mahlaynee Cooper. “It starts in school and it ends in jail.”

When speaking before board members Tuesday, Cooper pointed out that despite Black people making up only 18 percent of Wilmington’s population, 69 percent of children placed in seclusion or suspended are Black.

“Personally, I feel like teachers, they need to be in spaces where they can learn how to deal with children who live under oppressive systems,” said Cooper.

Despite pleas from community members to end seclusion altogether, leaders say they have to keep teachers in mind and what they need.

“I think it’s very important that we listen to the people in the classrooms that are dealing with these emergency situations,” said board member Stefanie Adams.

Adams claims some educators decided not to speak at Tuesday’s meeting due to fears of retaliation from those advocating against the practice of seclusion.

“We have staff members that are being traumatized by circumstances that are occurring in the classroom,” said Adams. “We can’t ignore the people that are the ones implementing these policies.”

The comments from Adams led to an outburst from one community member, yelling “good riddance” as she stormed out of the room at the end of the meeting.

Though seclusion rooms are coming to an end, Kraybill says there will likely never be a day in New Hanover County that seclusion disappears altogether.

“Right now, it’s in our general assembly that it is allowed so we are going to capitalize on being able to use this for emergencies,” said Kraybill.

Still, some community members at the meeting hope the use of seclusion does come to an end one day and that teachers are instead taught to deal with problems in other ways through training surrounding trauma sensitivity.

“Getting rid of seclusion and seclusion rooms and not teaching the staff any other techniques is not going to be a success,” said retired educator Kristina Mercier. “That needs to be an ongoing education for teachers so that they’re always sure what to do before something becomes a major incident.”

The school district is working on getting one of those trainings on the schedule for some staff members to attend. The details of that are still being worked out.