WILMINGTON, NC (WWAY) -- The New Hanover County School District is once again taking heat for the use of "seclusion rooms." A family has filed a formal complaint with the US Department of Education Office for Civil Rights.
The parents of a special needs five-year-old filed the complaint. They believe disabled students are being treated unfairly when it comes to seclusion rooms.
"It's not talked about. It's kept quiet. It's New Hanover County Schools' dirty little secret," said Sara Reider, a parent of a special needs child.
Reider's child has been put in a seclusion room multiple times. She's not the person who filed a complaint against the school system, but she is part of NC Fear Free Education, a local group that is trying to get seclusion rooms banned.
"It can exacerbate behaviors. Children are dehumanized. They're traumatized. There's long lasting effects. They're stressed. Anxiety increases," Reider said of seclusion rooms.
The small, padded seclusion rooms are used for children with special needs, and they are often a part of their individual education plan, or IEP.
"It's not an idea that you're putting somebody in an area and you're going to put them there for a specified period of time until they can quote 'learn how to behave.' That's not what it's all about. It's about deescalation, safety, so they can't hurt themselves or hurt someone else," New Hanover Co. Schools Assistant Superintendent Rick Holliday said.
Holliday says when it comes to seclusion rooms they follow House Bill 1032, which is known as the Greenblatt Act. But Reider says that does not make it right.
"The law is quite convoluted," she said. "There's a lot of leeway in there. It's hard for anybody to read that law and understand what is what."
As for the formal complaint filed this week, it claims children with special needs are discriminated against, because the rooms are specifically for them. Dr. Holliday has a different take.
"There are lots of intervention that you may use for children who are entitled that you may not use for someone else because they don't need that intervention, so everyone's individual education plan is just that: it is individual," he said. "Interventions that are used in all those plans are specific to that particular child."
The family who filed the complaint wishes to remain anonymous.
As of now, the school district has not received official word of the formal complaint.