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caption: Play court at View Ridge Elementary School on November 19th, 2020.
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Play court at View Ridge Elementary School on November 19th, 2020.
Credit: KUOW Photo/Ann Dornfeld

Seattle Special Education PTSA votes no-confidence in district after Black child was repeatedly locked in isolation

The Seattle Special Education PTSA took a vote of no-confidence in Seattle Public Schools a day after a KUOW story revealed that a student with disabilities was repeatedly locked outdoors.

The organization took the vote “due to the District’s repeated failure to hold adults accountable and repair the deeply entrenched systems that allow young, vulnerable children with disabilities, and especially children of color who are over-represented in our special education programs, to be restrained and isolated at school,” it said in a statement.

It is unusual for a PTSA to take a vote of no-confidence in a district, SSEPTSA President Janis White acknowledged. But she said that the story of Jaleel, a Black second-grader put in a fenced play court at the direction of the school principal —sometimes all day — was the last straw for the organization.

“It was time for us to take a stand, and to make clear how much we condemn this — this situation that we find ourselves in, year after year after year.”

READ: Locked in ‘the cage.’ Report finds disturbing discipline measures at Seattle school

Isolation is a tactic used widely in schools to control the behaviors of students with disabilities. White said her son, who receives special education services, was also locked outside his school when he was younger.

At View Ridge, the district had approved of the play court as a space to put the Jaleel — identified here by his middle name to protect his privacy — so long as one door was unlocked and he was supervised.

After a teacher complained to the district, a 14-month investigation found that the principal had not followed protocols and policy in locking the child up and failing to report it, and had also restrained other children on the floor.

The principal resigned last month after the district bought out the rest of his contract.

“Only individual building staff — and not District management — are held accountable for these systemic failures, reflecting a culture of racism and ableism that when exposed produces platitudes and performative actions, not systemic change,” SSEPTSA said in a statement.

In Seattle Schools, data show that nearly all students who are restrained or put in isolation have disabilities.

Families of Color Seattle called on the district “to provide credible and measurable assurances that this horrendous treatment of Jaleel will not happen again to another child; and to institute and implement anti-racist policies that center BIPOC students with disabilities as those currently farthest from educational justice.”

The denunciations came just ahead of Superintendent Denise Juneau announcing she'd be leaving the district once her contract expires in June 2021. The schools chief has made the academic success of Black boys and teens the focus of the district’s strategic plan.

READ: Denise Juneau, Seattle superintendent, to leave district

Critics, however — including the Seattle King County NAACP — accuse her of failing to work with the community and families to address issues of equity, including abusive treatment of BIPOC children and students with disabilities.

This story has been updated to include new information about Seattle Public Schools Superintendent Denise Juneau's resignation announcement.