Lichtenstein Explains 'Seclusion Room' OpEd, Allegations Against LPS

A former Lexington resident opens up about the OpEd he penned for the New York Times alleging his daughter, then a 5-year-old special needs student, was locked in a closet by educators within the Lexington Public Schools.


It wasn’t the settlement or his daughter's recovery that motivated journalist and former Lexington resident Bill Lichtenstein to write an OpEd for the New York Times about the alleged mistreatment of his daughter, then a kindergartener, within the Lexington Public Schools six years ago.

It was Jerry Sandusky.

Or, rather, it was the seismic fallout from the child abuse scandal that rocked Penn State, tarnished the reputation of legendary football coach Joe Paterno and forced the responsibility of adults to protect children into the public consciousness.

In , Lichtenstein writes about “seclusion rooms” as a cruel punishment for special needs students, and the shock of finding his young daughter naked in a basement closet, standing naked in a puddle of her own urine.

Although there was no indication of any sexual misconduct involving his daughter, Lichtenstein said following the Sandusky/Penn State scandal got him thinking about the responsibility of adults to not turn a blind eye when children’s safety is at stake. That, combined with Senate hearings over the summer, compelled Lichtenstein to share his version of his family's story.

“The thing that has always haunted me, in addition to the details of what happened to [her], is we were told at the time that other kids were involved,” said Lichtenstein. “The idea, the not knowing if it had ever been investigated and if the parents had been told, made me think about writing an article.”

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According to Lichtenstein, during the 2006-2007 school year his then-5-year-old daughter was locked in a basement closet of the current school administration building, which at that time was being used as the during construction. The closet, Lichtenstein says, was being used as a “seclusion room,” a controversial form of treatment and punishment used for special needs students that has come under fire from the Government Accountability Office and federal lawmakers.

By his own account, Lichtenstein said he never asked to see the room, which educators reportedly described as a “time out” room to which his daughter, who was on an IEP, was sent to some days. “There was a simple presumption, any parent being told that, that it would be an appropriate setting for a 5-year-old child,” Lichtenstein said.

To view the “seclusion room” Lichtenstein says his daughter was locked inside or to read through the parents' presentment letter and proposed findings and judgments, click through the photos and PDFs posted above.

In a statement released Monday night, Lexington Superintendent of Schools Paul Ash said , but indicate that staff members followed protocol.

In the statement, Ash also notes that the allegations were not brought until two years after the incidents allegedly occurred. According to a report last night on Fox, the Lichtenstein family settled with the district for $125,000 for therapy bills; according to the presentment letter provided by Lichtenstein, the family initially sought $5 million in damages. The settlement reportedly occurred in 2009.

Speaking with Patch on Monday, Lichtenstein said that in retrospect, had he known all of the facts, he would have done more at the time. But, as it was, the family’s first concern was the well being of their daughter, and believed that her situation was an isolated incident.

The girl was pulled out of the Lexington Public Schools, spent months recovering at home and then entered a program. The family no longer lives in town, and their daughter attends a public educational collaborative outside of Lexington, according to Lichtenstein. 

With the settlement in the rear view mirror, Lichtenstein said payoff from his piece—which he says he pitched to the Times and secured interest by telling the national story of seclusion rooms—would be if it leads to other incidences of mistreatment of children to come to light.

“My hope is that [she] continues to get past this,” he said, “And the second hope is that if any other children were involved, they can identify those kids and let the parents know.”

The Times piece isn't Lichtenstein's only work on mental health issues and punishment.

Lichtenstein, a Peabody Award-winning print and broadcast journalist, was diagnosed with manic depression in 1986, according to an interview with New England and Film.com, and in 1990 formed Lichtenstein Creative Media, a company that has produced a number of works tackling mental health issues.

In late August, Lichtenstein wrote a piece for HuffPost about the Massachusetts child welfare system being labeled the fifth worst-managed in the country.

CB September 11, 2012 at 02:41 PM
"The use of seclusion restraint is prohibited in public education programs." This quote is from Massachusetts Education Laws and Regulations 603 CMR 46.02.05 (last updated April 2, 2001). I did not see this listed in the presentment letter, and though many other violations are described, this is one the most basic of the violations alleged. I find the dismissiveness of Superintendent Paul Ash's response, as published in the Lexington Patch, to be very disturbing.
dbharrison September 11, 2012 at 07:32 PM
Lichtenstein is spot on. My now 25-year-old ADD/OCD daughter put up with humiliation in the Lexington schools.
Citizen September 12, 2012 at 12:20 AM
I saw my son and other children thrown into the padded room. My son had difficulty with language and executive function skills. I called Federation for Children was referred to an Advocate who at first didn't believe me. I brought the advocate to the school she saw the padded room in 2000. I always hoped she reported it to the Federation for Children and something would be done. I reported abuses to the Office for Children. They suggested I move my son from the school and my answer to her was what about the other kids. You think they're doing this to just MY son? It takes a village not just one teacher or administrator. I don't believe in conspiracies I do believe in collaboration and team work to get away with this for as along as the school got away with it. Ostracizing and islolating the children socially speaking to them in ways so other children would know they had no social standing in the school community or protection. These were a few other strategies. Mr. Lichtenstein is honest in his report of Lexington's secret education modification tool.
fitzroy September 12, 2012 at 01:53 AM
Prior to reading the piece in the nytimes I was not at all familiar with the story. I don't even live in Lexington; however I do know it is one of the more wealthy towns in Mass and I presume the Lexington school district is better resourced than say that of Lawrence, Lowell or Worcester. Assuming what happened at the school Mr. Lichtenstein's daughter attended is true, and that the events were accurately described, I can only assume it is because of lack of training, heavy teacher workload, and there probably was poor management. Now what about those schools in areas with high poverty rates? I empathize with public k-12 educators, society makes increasingly high demands from them and they are regularly under-resourced. So I guess the nytimes piece is one way to stick it to the Lexington school district, perhaps it was warranted even after the $350K settlement; hopefully it will shed light on a problem that apparently plagues Mass. But then again we’re talking about a smaller school district comprised mostly of rich white kids, so I am not sure much justice is being served. Am I wrong?
Suspicious September 12, 2012 at 03:13 AM
I mean, remember the whole flap about his radio program? Wasn't there a Congressional inquiry or something? http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=97488556 Not sure this is a reliable person.
Sandy Itzen September 12, 2012 at 04:22 AM
@Suspicious I just Googled it and it seems Mr. Lichtenstein was the victim of shoddy reporting and got a full apology from NPR/On the Media. See: http://www.current.org/2009/03/otm-issues-apology-correction-on-infinite-mind-show/ What is it with this story that is attracting all of these anonymous, personally attacking trolls. Dr. Ash, is that you???
x September 12, 2012 at 12:59 PM
There is a side issue here that should be examined. I've met parents of special needs children who could live anywhere in the United States. After careful study they moved to Massachusetts. They decided our state has the most comprehensive programs for children with disabilities, and they are 'free'. A local teacher told me her school receives students who cannot be handled in the classroom. They are 'farmed out' for special needs treatment at a cost of over $300,000 per year per student. The school is required by law to do so and taxpayers pay the tab. Shifting the cost of raising a special needs child to society at large makes economic sense to the parents. Massachusetts has become a magnet for parents who seek taxpayer-paid, high-quality treatment of children with disabilities. Why would they wish to live elsewhere? The law of unintended consequences is always in effect. This short note does not touch on compassion - by design. It treats economics, markets and school budgets. Reverend E. Raleigh Pimperton III
Citizen September 13, 2012 at 01:39 AM
What is the attraction of Lexington - rumor, fact or fiction. If Lexington no longer wants a reputation that attracts more special education kids let the truth come out. Shirley Jackson's inspiration for "The Lottery" was a quaint beautiful hamlet in Vermont. Don't deny. Embrace the culture of abuse as dues for the privilege to live in Lexington. The LPS rating dropped from AAA to AA. Maybe they were sending a message don't bring your Speds here to us unless you can educate them yourself our hands are full.


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