Last month, NBC Nightly News aired a segment on the latest classroom-management technique to sweep America’s schools: “room clears”: When a child throws a tantrum that could physically endanger his peers, teachers evacuate all of the other students from the classroom until the troublemaker has vented his rage upon empty desks, tables and chairs. The technique was virtually unheard of five years ago. But 56 percent of surveyed teachers and parents in Oregon now report having experienced a room clear in their or their child’s classroom over the last year.
Surrendering the classroom to a single student: The average reader might well ask why anyone thinks this would be a good idea. Yet the policies that make this approach inevitable have been applauded by a wide range of authorities, from the Southern Poverty Law Center to the Trump-administration’s Department of Education.
The emergence of room clears is a product of several fashionable education-policy trends designed to protect the rights of troubled students, often with little regard for the rights of their classmates. These include the provisions contained in the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), which mandates that special-education students be subject to the “least restrictive environment” possible. When it comes to students who are hard of hearing, dyslexic or developmentally delayed, this policy likely has done a great deal of good. But many schools also label disruptive or violent students as having an “Emotional and Behavioral Disability” (EBD). Rather than provide these students specialized attention in separate settings, schools often funnel them into traditional classrooms.
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