The National Center on Disability and Journalism announced this week that “The Quiet Rooms” won first place in the large media market category in the organization’s disability reporting competition. The national contest is devoted exclusively to the coverage of people with disabilities and disability issues.
The series by ProPublica Illinois reporter Jodi S. Cohen, the Chicago Tribune’s Jennifer Smith Richards and former ProPublica Illinois reporting fellow Lakeidra Chavis showed how state schools frequently put children, many of whom have disabilities, in stark “isolated timeout” spaces, or physically restrained them, for reasons that violated state law. Seclusion and physical restraint of children in Illinois is supposed to happen only in limited situations and only for safety reasons. State education officials, however, have failed to monitor the use of these practices, which can inflict trauma and injury, and parents often are told little about what happens to their children.
The investigation prompted swift action from the state’s governor and education officials, beginning with emergency restrictions. State officials banned locked seclusion immediately, put new restrictions on schools’ use of physical restraint and also announced plans to invest $7.5 million over the next three years to train Illinois educators on more positive ways to work with students.
Cohen, Smith Richards and Chavis will discuss their project in a virtual public lecture with The Walter Cronkite School of Journalism on Monday, Nov. 2.