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CAPE FEAR MEMORIAL BRIDGE: Updates, resources, and context

NHC School Board members get seclusion room presentation - but not a lot of real data


New Hanover County School Board members heard a presentation Tuesday night about the use of seclusion rooms in the district. But much of the demographic detail that advocates and community members have been asking for was absent.

Related: Love Our Children prevails: New Hanover school board unanimously votes to end suspensions for young students

The use of seclusion rooms has been a contentious issue between the board and the public. Julie Varnam, an assistant superintendent for New Hanover County Schools, noted that schools are strongly encouraged to use other methods of addressing negative student behaviors first, with seclusion as the last resort.

But, according to Varnam, the numbers are showing that the use of seclusion rooms affects one demographic in particular.

“There’s definitely inequity found in the data. We see that more often those students that are secluded are elementary ages. More often, of those students, they are identified as Black, and they are identified as males. And so that disproportionality is concerning, it is also consistent with identification of students who are suspended from school, and identification of students with disabilities especially in behavioral and emotional or other health impaired," she said.

Some community members have been pushing for the end of seclusion rooms for the past year and have repeatedly requested data on their use. However, Tuesday's presentation offered little to no data. Varnam said she attempted to get information on how seclusion was being reported in the state from Department of Public Instruction (DPI), but the department still has't provided that information.

When it comes to New Hanover County demographic data, Varnam said it could be a potential Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act
FERPA (FERPA) violation to disseminate those numbers to the public, saying schools with lower numbers are easier to identify secluded students. Board member Judy Justice expressed concern over this FERPA usage.

Varnam said that some teachers still use the rooms as a last resort in emergency situations but that it’s up to the board whether the practice continues.

Camille hails from Long Island, NY and graduated from Boston University with a BS in Journalism and double minors in Classical Civilizations and Philosophy. Her story focus revolves her deep care for children, young adults and mental health. You can reach her at cmojica@whqr.org.