Lexington Schools Behold the Power of the New York Times

If you’re wondering what would be lost in a world without newspapers, consider the news that the superintendent of Lexington has asked the state to review the practice of putting kids in isolation rooms in the wake of a parent’s New York Times op-ed. In Sunday’s Times, Bill Lichtenstein wrote about a national trend toward using “physical restraints and seclusion rooms” to keep control in schools. His interest in the issue, he says, sparked in 2006 when his daughter attended a Lexington kindergarten. He writes:

We later learned that Rose had been locked in the closet five times that morning. She said that during the last confinement, she needed to use the restroom but didn’t want to wet her outfit. So she disrobed. Rather than help her, the school called us and then covered the narrow door’s small window with a file folder, on which someone had written “Don’t touch!”

We were told that Rose had been in the closet almost daily for three months, for up to an hour at a time. At first, it was for behavior issues, but later for not following directions. Once in the closet, Rose would pound on the door, or scream for help, staff members said, and once her hand was slammed in the doorjamb while being locked inside.

The column provoked a response from the parents who attended a school committee meeting. One parent brought up a similar case and others demanded an investigation. The school district settled out of court with Lichtenstein and maintains that there was no misdeed. “If any of these agencies conducted a formal investigation, I was not made aware of it,” Lichtenstein wrote in the Times. Fast forward six years, and though the school still doesn’t see any wrongdoing, it’s at least willing to let a higher authority judge.

Lichtenstein is, of course, presenting only one side of the tale, and so perhaps a state review will find that Lexington isn’t doing anything wrong. What’s most important is that the investigation is taking place. That’s why forums like the Times opinion page (and the Globe‘s follow-up reporting) exist.