Special needs children are being restrained and placed in time-out rooms at New Jersey schools but there is no way of knowing how often because the state has no rules or laws governing their use, according to advocates for the disabled.
"We know it goes on, on a regular basis," said Mary Ciccone, of Disability Rights New Jersey. "There's no accounting for how often it occurs, there's no requirement that it be recorded so we don't know exactly what numbers we are talking about."
New York has some rules regarding the use of restraint and seclusion. Children can be placed in time-out rooms but it must be written into their individualized instruction plans. Further, students must be continuously supervised while in time out, and there is a set time limit, which varies per child.
Connecticut has the most extensive protections in the tri-state area, requiring schools to notify parents and the state education department on usage.
In New Jersey, Bridget Sediqzad's 10-year-old son, Maddox, has schizophrenia and is a third-grader at the ESC School in West Amwell, a school for children with behavioral issues.
Based on what her son tells her, Sediqzad is concerned the school goes too far with discipline.
“They hit me, they kick me,” said Maddox. "And they throw me in the time-out room.”
Once, Maddox told his mother when he resisted being placed in the time-out room, "they smashed my fingers in the door and I pulled them out."
It's not clear how many times he has been placed in time out this year. According to school reports obtained by his mother, Maddox has been in time out twice this year. But Maddox says it's closer to a dozen times.
His mother is trying to transfer him to another school, but it has not been approved.
New Jersey schools are not required to tell parents when a time-out room is used.
Citing privacy reasons, school officials declined to discuss Maddox's case, but acknowledged that time-out areas are utilized to assist students in regaining control. And the school touts a Crisis Prevention Program that allows for what it says is safe physical intervention when a student presents a danger to himself or others.
"We are proud of our history of providing a comprehensive, therapeutic and responsive learning environment focused on the success of all our students," said Marie Kisch, superintendent at Hunterdon County Educational Services Commission.
Educational advocate Renay Zamloot, who is helping Maddox and his mom navigate the school system, said the practice of time outs is not regulated or monitored.
"People employing these techniques view this as treatment or therapy but therapy doesn't instill terror or inflect pain and treatment is supposed to promote health and wellness," Zamloot said.
A report released in February by Connecticut’s state education department revealed that for the 2012-13 school year, 18,000 students were placed in time-out rooms, and children with autism were most frequently subjected to restraint or seclusion in Connecticut schools.
In Maddox's case, Zamloot said the school has justified its methods by pointing to Maddox's Individualized Educational Program that was signed by Sediqzad. The program allows for "restraint techniques" and "temporary removal from classroom."
"I would never hurt my child that way," said Sediqzad. "And knowing that other people can do that to him and not be held accountable, it's terrifying."
Not all parents are opposed to these methods.
Bobbie Gallagher is the mother of two autistic children who are now in their early 20s. Her son Austin is non-verbal, and has had to be restrained in school to prevent him from hurting others.
“He will grab and pull you into him,” said Gallagher. “He will attempt to bite someone else.”
Gallagher views restraint as a last resort and is in favor of some regulation, particularly rules that will ensure this power is not abused in classrooms.
"You don't want it to be something that's so restrictive that people could get harmed if you start to eliminate every possibility," she said.
On the federal level, Sen. Tom Harkin of Iowa and Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut introduced the “Keeping All Students Safe Act,” a bill that proposes significant regulation over the use of seclusion and restraint in schools.