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Schoolchildren are being locked in small boxes as a form of punishment

Miss Trunchbull

Yes, you heard that right – schools are locking children in small dark boxes as a form of punishment

A controversial form of punishment in use in Iowa schools has hit the headlines this week, horrifying parents in the US and beyond. Many schools in the state have installed ‘seclusion enclosures’ into their classrooms as a means of disciplining children.

If your mind is conjuring terrifying images of Miss Trunchbull’s chokey in Matilda, you’re not far off. The cramped pine boxes let in little or no light, measure six by six feet – and can only be opened from the outside. Inside, the walls are padded and airless: a complaint from a parent earlier this year described a “a plywood box lined with foul-smelling black horse stall mats” in which badly-behaved children were forced to stand.

Schools are able to confine children in the boxes for up to an hour – and even longer if the school administrator agrees. Most worrying of all, the permission of the parent is not required, with schools only required to inform the child’s parent or guardian on the same day.

One parent describes hearing her child screaming in the background during a call from the school.
Unsurprisingly, she says the child was ‘traumatised’ by her stint in chokey – a response familiar from a recent Mumsnet thread discussing MNers’ own experience of solitary confinement as children.

The punishment is officially intended to be used on violent students – but according to an investigation by the State Department for education, some children were subjected to confinement for minor infractions, including stepping out of a line, having “attitude,” or swearing.

Most horrifyingly of all, the data examined by the enquiry showed that the punishment is used primarily in the early elementary grades, the equivalent of UK infant classes – with 277 of the 455 occurring in pre-kindergarten to third grade.

The department ruled that, while Iowa City schools were in violation of state and federal law if they used the punishment for minor infractions, they could use confinement to prevent harm to the self or others.