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"Scream Rooms" - CT Attorneys and Advocates File OCR Complaint Against Middletown Public Schools

posted Jan 13, 2012, 7:35 PM by Diane Willcutts   [ updated Jan 15, 2012, 3:00 PM ]

January 12, 2012

To Whom it May Concern,

We, attorneys and advocates of children with special education needs in Connecticut, hereby lodge a formal complaint with the United States Department of Education Office for Civil Rights against the Middletown Public Schools.  We are filing this complaint on behalf of elementary students with disabilities attending the Farm Hill School in Middletown, Connecticut, who are being held against their will in what administrators call “time out rooms” but which parents and students call “scream rooms.”  These are small, cement-walled rooms.  Children in regular education report hearing their classmates screaming and banging on the door, and school staff have reported having to clean up blood and urine from these rooms.  Children with disabilities, our most vulnerable children, are apparently being secluded, restrained, and injured at school repeatedly.  

We urge you to watch this segment (one of many like it) from our local news station from three days ago:

See also this article:

As you will see from these stories, much of the public outrage has been coming from the parents of children in regular education, who are horrified that their children are subjected to hearing these screams and having their classes disrupted.  Although this is understandable, the bigger issue is the disparate treatment and ongoing abuse of children with disabilities.

There is no question that Middletown Public Schools is treating students with disabilities differently than it does their nondisabled classmates.  In a 1/12/2012 article in the Hartford Courant, Middletown’s superintendent, Michael Frechette, asserted that, "Unless you have an IEP, this is not part of your daily [plan]," he said. "The rooms have been used very infrequently for students without an IEP. . .”  The State of Connecticut has made similar assertions in a statement released last Wednesday.  It says, “state law and regulation permits school districts to utilize seclusion time out rooms as specified in an Individualized Education Program (IEP) for students with a disability as determined by a team of professionals that includes the parents of the child. Restraints may be used only on an emergency basis limited to students identified with special needs. There are no provisions for the use of seclusion time out for students that do not have an IEP.”

Just this afternoon, the Hartford Courant reported that “School officials said Friday they would no longer use so-called ‘scream rooms’ for certain students at Farm Hill Elementary School.  At a press conference Friday afternoon, Superintendent Michael Frechette said, ‘I wanted to make clear that I have directed all administrative staff in the district to cease, immediately, using timeout rooms for students who do not have specialized, legally created IEPs.’"  In addition, Superintendent Frechette made assurances that classes would no longer be disrupted by screaming, stating that "A new suite area on the second floor of the building will be modified for use as a safe area by students with IEPs .”

We are confident that, if a fraction of what is being reported by the media and the families at these open meetings is true, numerous federal laws, including Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, have been violated repeatedly at Farm Hill Elementary School.  There is no doubt in our minds that the students in these rooms who have special education needs are being discriminated against on the basis of their disability and that this is a matter to be immediately and vigorously investigated by OCR.  We contemplated contacting the Department of Justice and are prepared to do so if OCR believes it is warranted.

This Complaint is signed by several individuals.  Although none of the undersigned presently have clients who are personally affected by this outrageous situation, we felt compelled to take action as a group on behalf of those children whose parents have not accessed or cannot access representation.  

Respectfully Submitted:

Attorney Meredith Braxton, Greenwich, Connecticut

Attorney Roger Bunker, Bloomfield, Connecticut

Ms. Jill Chuckas, Stamford, Connecticut

Ms. Marina Derman, Westport, Connecticut

Attorney Andrew Feinstein, Mystic, Connecticut

Attorney John Flanders, Cromwell, Connecticut

Ms. Gerri Fleming, Norwalk Connecticut

Attorney Christina Ghio, Cheshire, Connecticut

Attorney Dana Jonson, Bethel, Connecticut

Attorney Mary Dale Lancaster, Danbury, Connecticut

Attorney Jennifer Laviano, Sherman, Connecticut

Attorney Colleen Masse, West Hartford, Connecticut

Attorney Gerry McMahon, Danbury, Connecticut

Attorney Courtney Spencer, Glastonbury, Connecticut

Ms. Maggie Coudriet Siegel, Trumbull, Connecticut

Ms. Julie Swanson, Durham, Connecticut

Ms. Linda Talbert, Norwalk, Connecticut

Attorney Anne Treimanis, Norwalk, Connecticut

Ms. Diane Willcutts, West Hartford, Connecticut



Now we need to use this horrific situation to help put in place federal legislation that would prohibit scream rooms nationwide!  It's already in the pipeline.  More information is here.