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Our Views: Seclusion a tool to be used sparingly

Every school district should fear the kind of complaint posted onto Facebook last week by a Milton mother regarding a principal’s use of seclusion to discipline a first-grader.

Regardless of whether the Milton West Elementary principal was justified in placing the first-grader in a former storage closet, the incident made a public-relations mess. It doesn’t help that the district is limited to what it can say about the incident, reportedly over the first-grader’s refusal to relinquish a handful of Play-Doh.

Maybe staff could have better handled the situation, but the first-grader’s brief time in seclusion doesn’t appear as “heinous” as the mother alleges. Police found no reason to open a criminal investigation.

Controversy over school districts’ use of seclusion—defined by the state as “involuntary confinement”—isn’t new and isn’t unique to Milton. Reports of some districts relying too heavily on seclusion and in some cases applying it disproportionately to minorities prompted the Legislature in 2011 to create rules for how schools practice seclusion and restraint. State law also requires districts to report annually to school boards the number of incidents and students involved.

The easiest way for schools to run afoul of the law is to place a student in seclusion when other disciplinary methods would do. The law makes clear seclusion is only for students who present an “imminent risk to the physical safety of the student or others, and it is the least restrictive intervention feasible.”

Long gone are the days when teachers could turn to corporal punishment to deal with students guilty of the worst infractions. Teachers and principals today discipline students at their own risk, and any whiff of overreaction can blow up on social media like happened in Milton.

It’s unfortunate schools need seclusion rooms, but they have few other options for addressing extreme behavior, except to call the police, which they sometimes do. The unacceptable alternative is to allow the most dangerous, disruptive behavior to take over classrooms, infringing on the rights of other students who want to learn.

The best way to avoid the kind of ordeal afflicting Milton is for school districts to have policies for de-escalating situations before they require restraint or seclusion. This is sometimes easier said than done, especially when some students don’t respond to incentives and disincentives. These students often have unstable home lives or medical conditions, such as attention deficit disorder, that make them prone to lashing out and fighting with authority.

A review of any school districts’ statistics shows only a small fraction of the student body accounts for seclusion’s use. When staff is called to isolate a student, there’s a good chance this student has a long history of running afoul of fundamental rules of behavior. It’s important to remember these students—regardless of their disabilities and economic disadvantages —can sap significant school resources. It’s one of those inconvenient truths of public education.

Of course educators can mistakes, but parents shouldn’t try to take away the few remaining tools that districts have to maintain the integrity of learning environments. While seclusion should be used sparingly, it’s sometimes necessary.

Gerson: Republicans are failing the Roy Moore test

“‘All this will I give you,’ he said, ‘if you will bow down and worship me.’”

— Matthew 4:9


The prospect of Sen. Roy Moore has been both horrifying and clarifying. It would be difficult to design a more controlled, precise test of the moral gag reflex in politics.

In this political lifeboat dilemma, Republicans are being asked what principles they are willing to throw overboard in the interests of power. A belief that character matters in politics? Splash. A commitment to religious and ethnic inclusion? Splash. Moral outrage at credible charges of sexual predation against teen girls? Splash.

Those remaining in this lightened boat display a kind of shocking clarity. They value certain political ends—tax cuts, a conservative judiciary—more than ethical considerations. When it comes to confirming judges who oppose Roe v. Wade, the vote of a statesman is no better than the vote of a sexual predator—or, presumably, of a drug dealer or a murderer. This type of calculation admits no limiting principle.

So, in this view, it does not really matter that there is (as Ivanka Trump put it) “no reason to doubt the victims’ accounts” in Moore’s case. It does not matter that Moore’s explanations have been shifting and slippery. It does not matter that Moore has said that homosexual behavior should be illegal, or that he compared resisting gay marriage to resisting the Holocaust, or that he referred to Asians as “yellows,” or that he doesn’t believe President Obama is a natural born citizen, or that he believes there are communities living under Shariah law in Illinois and Indiana.

Those willing to swallow all this—all the ignorance, cruelty, creepiness and malice—have truly shown the strength of their partisan commitment. A purity indistinguishable from mania.

The Moore test has been useful in its own way. It has exposed corrupt leaders. President Trump’s eventual endorsement of Moore was predictable, given his personal interest in discrediting the credible accusations of exploited women. The support of the Republican National Committee revealed a political party with no judgment, no standards and a cloudy future among the young and morally sentient. All Moore’s allies and enablers have marked themselves as unfit for leadership. The untainted—among them Sens. Mike Lee, Bob Corker, Jeff Flake, Cory Gardner, Susan Collins, Thom Tillis, Lindsey Graham, John McCain, Steve Daines, Bill Cassidy and Ben Sasse—are far and away the best positioned to play positive roles in a Republican recovery.

The Moore test has exposed corrupt arguments. All those who say “Let the voters of Alabama decide” are applying popular sovereignty to a matter of basic morality. Abraham Lincoln would not be amused. If Republicans have any remaining ties to the great man, they will not count votes when fundamental principles are at stake. We do not let the people decide on the rights of minorities. And the people do not decide on the rules of morality.

And the Moore test has exposed corrupt institutions. The basic argument here—that ethics can be ignored in the process of doing great work in the world—is precisely what brings institutions into disrepute. The Catholic Church covered up sexual predation on the justification that it was otherwise doing great work in the world. Some evangelicals are now publicly downplaying credible charges of sexual predation for the same reason. And they are doing tremendous damage to the reputation of the Christian church in the process.

Though I probably don’t say it enough, many evangelicals are doing great work in the world—feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless and welcoming the stranger. But a self-selected, highly visible group of politicized evangelicals is engaged in a remarkable project. Once they were known for harsh moralism—for being eager tutors in our national sins. Now they argue that character doesn’t count and the ends justify the means. The moral majority has somehow lost its taste for decency.

The hope for American politics is found in the reverse, the photographic negative, of all these trends.

In leaders who affirm and exemplify the nobility of the political enterprise. In arguments that elevate principle above expediency. In institutions that shape character, confront corruption, take the side of the exploited and echo the newly pertinent question: “For what shall it profit a man to gain the whole world and lose his soul?”

Sound Off for Sunday, Dec. 10

On the Monterey Hotel: It says in Tuesday’s paper (Page 6A) the city’s building and development services issued a condemnation order on the former Mercy Manor, so they had to tear it down. How come the city doesn’t do that for the Monterey Hotel?

On stolen decorations: The Grinch is back. Christmas decorations stolen and sold on Craigslist or Facebook. Targeting expensive decorations, especially inflatables, and theme characters near UW-Rock County. Shame on thieves, bah humbug.

On drug problems in Rock County: I’m calling about the article in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel on Monday about the drug use in Janesville, which is very shocking as I live here. I feel sorry for the policemen and the fire department people who have to put up with this stuff. It also shows you the jobs that we have around here since GM left are the working poor. Gov. Scott Walker has failed us. I love Janesville, and I love Wisconsin, but we need a heck of a lot better leaders.

On Thursday editorial, “Outsiders get the region’s story wrong again”: Regarding The Gazette’s response to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s well-researched and well-written article about Rock County’s struggle with opioids and economic problems, when will The Gazette take off the blinders and drop the pom-poms?

On President Trump: He wants to be a ruling dictator like his heroes. It’s the last thing for a 71-year-old overweight man who has nothing but his mouth left. As we all see, he doesn’t take intelligent advice from anyone. Congress and the Senate has to do something about Trump’s chaos, or the Republican Party will die. It cannot last on lies alone.

Can you imagine what kind of shape this country would be in with Hillary running the country? You really don’t want to know.

On First Lady Melania Trump: When Laura Bush was first lady, she had a staff of six people. Michelle Obama came in and raised that to 24 people. Melania Trump has just cut that back to four people. This is why the Trumps have so much money, because they don’t waste it.

On Trump’s North Korea response: We had a Sound Off caller who was angry because President Trump will only say, ‘We’re going to take of it,’ in response to the threat from North Korea. Dear Mr. Sound Off caller, I realize you might think it’s a brilliant strategy to tell your enemy what you’re going to do before you do it since Barack Obama engaged in this behavior for eight years, but I suggest you Google the term, ‘element of surprise,’ and it might clear it up for you.

On Supreme Court upholding travel ban last week: This ruling was seven to two. There’s four conservatives, four liberals and one moderate on the court, so even half of the liberals couldn’t with a straight face pretend that Trump doesn’t have this authority since it’s explicitly written out in the Constitution.

On sending women into combat: If women are in these units, they might have second thoughts when time comes to burn down a village or kill the babies.

On tax plan’s effects on seniors: Everyone is talking about the rich, the middle class and the poor and what it means to them. Supposedly the middle class will get a raise if companies invest in their employees. Who is thinking about the forgotten group called seniors who are living on a fixed income? Last I heard, Medicare was going up and with more deductibles. Will our pensions be affected? What about our 401Ks that we draw on? Nobody talks about us.

On Wednesday Sound Off comment about Big Ten conference: Setting the record straight, both Wisconsin and Ohio State had stronger strength of schedules than Alabama, who chose to play that powerhouse Mercer. Wisconsin won more games than Alabama, had a better record, won their division and played in a conference championship game. Alabama did none of these but was rewarded by the perception the SEC is better than the Big Ten. Who’s the better team? We will never know, but all the data points to Bucky.