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‘It’s like a jail cell,’ Cordova mom shares experiences of ‘cool-down’ rooms used in local schools

Even after Governor J.B. Pritzker and the Illinois State Board Of Education issued an “emergency action” to end isolated seclusion rooms, Amber Patz...

EAST MOLINE, Illinois -- Even after Governor J.B. Pritzker and the Illinois State Board Of Education issued an "emergency action" to end isolated seclusion rooms, Amber Patz said she is waiting to see the change - not just be promised it.

Her now 11-year-old son transferred from the Riverdale School District to Black Hawk Area Special Education District (BHASED) towards the end of third grade. She said BHASED officials assured her their staff was better equipped to deal with her son's Oppositional Defiant Disorder, which is a type of behavior disorder.

"It was a hard enough choice to go against the norm," Patz said in regards to pulling her son from traditional schools. "Because everyone wants their kids to be normal."

Patz's son, Dalton, spent nearly a year at The Center, which is a facility that BHASED oversees. According to Patz, a majority of his time was spent in what BHASED called "cool-down rooms."

"It’s like a jail cell," Patz said. "He would go in these rooms and he would kick the wall. Kick the wall. But that was the reaction he had. It’s like that of a panic attack or an anxiety attack."

Patz said Dalton was taken to the "cool-down rooms" at least once a day when he displayed "amplified behavior." She said when she first toured the facility she was shown the rooms and they were pitched as "sensory rooms" to "calm or distract" students.

"It was painted like a rainbow picture," she said. "I was very uneducated on it. Didn’t really ask what that was. Assuming that my child was in school and that he’s safe... and I feel really bad about that. Because it’s supposed to be my job to protect him."

Patz claims staff did not have the proper training to redirect her son. Instead, she said she believes staff thought it was easier not to deal with him by putting him in the seclusion room.

Ultimately, Patz decided to take her son out of the program.

BHASED officials that oversee The Center issued a statement saying in part:

"The intent of all behavioral intervention is to change student behavior in a positive, affirming way...We review de-escalation practices with staff regularly and with certified trainers at least quarterly."

BHASED's Director of Special Education, Christan Schrader, said staff participated in a training and reviewed the Illinois Administrative Code on Restraint and Seclusion in early November.

"They’ve been getting this same training all along and the reports are still there. So something wasn’t going right," Patz argued back. "They’re putting out statements saying that their doing the right thing - they’re using it the way that they’re supposed to. They’re not even admitting that what they did was wrong."

On November 20, Governor J.B. Pritzker said he will pursue a state law on the issue.

"I just want to see it executed... thoroughly," Patz emphasized. "We’ve put these emergency rules into place which is excellent, but we don’t have someone there to help them properly redirect the children at this point."