ProPublica and the Chicago Tribune collaborated to produce this shocking investigation of the mistreatment and abuse of students with special needs in Illinois.

This is a story of shameful cruelty to children. Read it and weep.

THE SPACES have gentle names: The reflection room. The cool-down room. The calming room. The quiet room.

But shut inside them, in public schools across the state, children as young as 5 wail for their parents, scream in anger and beg to be let out.

The students, most of them with disabilities, scratch the windows or tear at the padded walls. They throw their bodies against locked doors. They wet their pants. Some children spend hours inside these rooms, missing class time. Through it all, adults stay outside the door, writing down what happens.

In Illinois, it’s legal for school employees to seclude students in a separate space — to put them in “isolated timeout” — if the students pose a safety threat to themselves or others. Yet every school day, workers isolate children for reasons that violate the law, an investigation by the Chicago Tribune and ProPublica Illinois has found.

Children were sent to isolation after refusing to do classwork, for swearing, for spilling milk, for throwing Legos. School employees use isolated timeout for convenience, out of frustration or as punishment, sometimes referring to it as “serving time.”

For this investigation, ProPublica Illinois and the Tribune obtained and analyzed thousands of detailed records that state law requires schools to create whenever they use seclusion. The resulting database documents more than 20,000 incidents from the 2017-18 school year and through early December 2018.

Of those, about 12,000 included enough detail to determine what prompted the timeout. In more than a third of these incidents, school workers documented no safety reason for the seclusion…

No federal law regulates the use of seclusion, and Congress has debated off and on for years whether that should change. Last fall, a bill was introduced that would prohibit seclusion in public schools that receive federal funding. A U.S. House committee held a hearing on the issue in January, but there’s been no movement since.

Nineteen states prohibit secluding children in locked rooms; four of them ban any type of seclusion. But Illinois continues to rely on the practice. The last time the U.S. Department of Education calculated state-level seclusion totals, in 2013-14, Illinois ranked No. 1.

The story contains stories of children locked in small rooms, where they urinate on themselves, bang on the walls and doors and scratch them. Some of the children have serious mental or emotional disorders. Some are disobedient. None deserves to be treated with such inhumanity. Experts say that punitive “seclusion” is not only cruel but ineffective.

After reading this report, I asked ProPublica where seclusion has been banned.

This was the answer:

These four states ban any type of seclusion (Georgia, Hawaii, Nevada, Pennsylvania) and that these are the remaining 15 you’re looking for: Alabama, Arkansas, California, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Montana, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, New York, Ohio, Utah, Wisconsin, Wyoming (with varying levels of exceptions).

Thanks to ProPublica for shedding light on this horrible practice.