School district staff shares 'scream rooms' investigation results

RENO, Nev. (KRNV & -- In July PEOPLE First of Nevada shocked the Washoe County school board with accusations that schools were using an outlawed form of punishment called seclusion - or scream - rooms. For the past three months, the district has been visiting schools and assessing the situation.

"For them to bring that up and to write such an exhaustive report and their own recommendations meant that was a real issue for them," said Executive Director of Student Support Services Frank Selvaggio.

Selvaggio is talking about the 11-page scream rooms report PEOPLE First of Nevada gave to the school board this summer.

In response, a team of educators, administrators and advocates investigated 50 schools across the district.

"They actually went and visited the rooms and they went to the schools," said WCSD Superintendent Pedro Martinez. "I think that was great, and the fact that recommendations came back about how we move forward. I think the committee met its goal."

The group found 13 schools had rooms built into classrooms that could have been used for seclusion, which surprised Martinez.

"Just learning that we still have some, even though they're isolated, some issues with those buildings," Martinez said. "That was a little surprising to me, but I'm glad it came to our attention."

Selvaggio said the rooms were likely used before seclusion became an illegal form of punishment in 1999 and he said it's not happening now.

"From everything that we looked at, this practice of scream rooms is not something that is occurring in our district from what I can tell at present," Selvaggio.

But their existence raises questions from advocacy groups like PEOPLE First.

"When you have such a room, how do you know for sure that it will be used properly," Selvaggio said.

So they're repainting or re-purposing the rooms and removing doors to remove any doubt, and they're going to train staff on the laws and procedures.

"The vast majority of our educators would never even think of trying to do something inappropriate like forcing a child to go into a room," Selvaggio said.

Martinez said he hopes the community will take note of their response.

"The staff responded so timely and I think hopefully it tells the community that we care," he said. "We care about what they think and we care when they bring us an issue."