The Education Writers Association announced on Wednesday that “The Quiet Rooms” series, a collaboration between ProPublica Illinois and the Chicago Tribune, won the Fred M. Hechinger Grand Prize for Distinguished Education reporting, the top prize in its National Awards for Education Reporting. This is the second consecutive year ProPublica has received the grand prize. Last year, former ProPublica reporter Hannah Dreier won for the “Trapped in Gangland” series, which told the stories of students caught up in Long Island’s effort to crack down on MS-13.
The investigation, by ProPublica Illinois reporter Jodi S. Cohen, the Tribune’s Jennifer Smith Richards and former ProPublica Illinois fellow Lakeidra Chavis, showed how Illinois schools frequently put children 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 series prompted Illinois’ governor and state education officials to commit to sweeping change, beginning with emergency restrictions. State officials banned locked seclusion immediately and put new restrictions on schools’ use of physical restraint, including banning prone restraint. For the first time, Illinois is also monitoring restraint and timeout, with schools required to notify state officials within 48 hours of using the measure. The state 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.
For the National Awards for Education Reporting category prize, the “Quiet Rooms” series was selected from among more than 400 entries and independently judged by 90 current and former editors and reporters. Each year, awards judges select one piece of coverage from among the first prize winners as the recipient of the Education Writers Association’s top prize.
“A breathtaking and heartbreaking series of stories with comprehensive data analysis, clear writing, and visuals that force readers to confront the suffering these children go through,” an awards judge said. “This series provides an immense and nearly immediate public service for the well being of children in Illinois and other states.”
See a list of all winners for the National Awards for Educating Reporting here.