JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (KMIZ)
A Columbia Public Schools employee told state lawmakers that the district's policy on the use of seclusion rooms was recently violated at its CORE facility.
Angela Jolley told the House Special Committee of Regulatory Oversight and Reform that staff at the district's CORE building were "constantly" using the rooms.
"I witnessed students were put in for non-compliance. Sit-down strikes," Jolley said. "Lots of crying and begging to get out of the box. The students were not prepared for that."
Jolley said she works in the building, which houses programs for students that are disabled, autistic or have a behavioral issue.
The district's policy for seclusion and isolation outlines a small list of when it is appropriate, including when there is an emergency, when the child poses a threat to themselves or others, and when such action is outlined in the student's individual education plan (IEP).
Jolley said she's communicated concerns on the overuse of the rooms to her superiors inside CPS, but did not see a substantial response.
Rep. Dottie Bailey, R-Eureka is the lead force behind the probe into the district's use of the rooms. Bailey is pushing a bill that would add restrictions to the use of seclusion rooms and require the state to document when isolation is used by a school.
In January, Rep. Dottie Bailey, R-Eureka, presented the bill at a news conference.
During the presentation, Bailey put up photos, taken by Jolley, of what she said were seclusion rooms used at the CORE facility. CPS immediately denied any wrongdoing and called Bailey's use of the photos misleading.
Bailey's proposal is moving forward. On Wednesday, Missouri representatives approved of the bill, which now requires one final vote on the House floor before it is sent to the Senate.
The district met Bailey with resistance, she said, when the lawmaker requested documentation of specific incidents involving seclusion and restraint at the CORE facility.
Catapult Learning conducts the CORE program for some of the students at the facility.
"I think both the director of Catapult is lying to me, and (CPS Superintendent Dr. Peter Stiepleman) is lying to me," Bailey told ABC 17 News. "If you don’t answer my questions, and let me see the sunshine documents and all the videos, how am I supposed to find the truth?"
Michelle Baumstark, CPS' Communications Director, said they worked with Bailey and showed her a video responsive to her request. Baumstark told ABC 17 News in a text message that the district "can't openly defend (itself) without violating student privacy."
CPS declines invitation
No one from the school district was present at the hearing to respond to Bailey, Jolley or the other members of the committee Wednesday. District leaders said they did not have enough heads-up.
State Rep. Ron Hicks, the chairman of the Special Committee on Regulatory Oversight and Reform, asked CPS officials this week if they would send anyone to testify at the committee's hearing.
Hicks, a Republican from Dardenne Prarie, requested the appearance of several CPS officials, including Superintendent Peter Stiepleman. Hicks made the request in a letter, which ABC 17 News received in the form of a news release on Tuesday.
"Because Columbia Public Schools have a well-documented relationship with Catapult Learning, which is known to utilize a seclusion room at the school district’s CORE (Center of Responsive Education) facility," Hicks' letter read, "the committee believes it would be extremely helpful to hear from all those who have knowledge of this situation."
Stiepleman denied the request in a five-page letter on Tuesday, citing a lack of notice of the hearing.
"Unfortunately, the District is unable to make personnel and its Board President available for the hearing given the short notice provided."
The rest of the letter details the district's policy on seclusion and isolation rooms.
The district's CORE facility is one of two locations where Catapult Learning conducts programs for disabled students who require support, according to Stiepleman's letter.
"We need to get to the bottom of this," Hicks said. After the hearing, he said he plans to send another letter to the district.
"We welcome the opportunity to have further discussions with Rep. Hicks," Baumstark said. "It's unfortunate we were given such short notice."