A thirteen-year-old activist with autism wants to close seclusion rooms at schools


“When I asked for help or asked if anyone was still there, nobody would answer,” said Alex. “I felt alone. I felt scared.”

Alex Campbell was just 7 years old when, he says, his principal dragged him down the hall to the school’s “crisis room.”

Administrators reserved the room, a converted storage closet, for children who acted out. He still remembers the black-painted walls. The small window he was too short to reach. The sound of a desk scraping across the floor, as it was pushed in front of the door to make sure he couldn’t get out.

Alex, who has autism spectrum disorder, says he was taken there more than a half-dozen times in first grade, for behavior such as ripping up paper or refusing to follow instructions in class. The room was supposed to calm him down. Instead, it terrified him.

“When I asked for help or asked if anyone was still there, nobody would answer,” Alex said. “I felt alone. I felt scared.”

According to the latest data collected by the U.S. Department of Education, public school districts reported restraining or secluding over 120,000 students during the 2015-2016 school year, most of them children with disabilities. Families and advocates have documented cases of students being pinned down, strapped to their wheelchairs, handcuffed or restrained in other ways. Both practices, experts say, can traumatize children, and may lead to severe injuries, even death.

Alex is determined to close the seclusion rooms for good. Last week, the 13-year-old told his story to legislators, congressional staff and advocates to mark the introduction of the Keeping All Students Safe Act, a bill that would bar the use of seclusion and significantly curtail the use of restraints in schools that receive federal funds. No federal law currently regulates the use of such practices on students.

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