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Congressman Seeks Probe Into School 'Quiet Rooms'

SAN FRANCISCO (CBS 5) ― A year-long CBS 5 investigation into the practice of locking school children up in closet-like "quiet rooms" is going national.

Over the past year, CBS5 Investigates uncovered numerous incidents in which children in classrooms all over the state were being forcibly pinned down to the ground and locked up in closets, just for misbehaving. Now, East Bay Congressman George Miller has asked the U.S. Government Accountability Office to conduct a nationwide investigation.

The latest incident involved a chair, set high up in a gymnasium at a middle school in Bryan, Texas. That's where school officials put a school student who misbehaved.

"I'm surprised they put a kid in a crawlspace," the boy's mother said. "I mean that's something you might expect in a juvenile facility at the turn of the century, not in a school today."

The discovery of the attic used as a so-called "quiet room" in Texas echoes what CBS 5 Investigates uncovered last year in California: School children shut into small rooms or closets when they misbehave, a practice advocates told us is extremely traumatizing.

"They have a fear that they are going to be left in the room and forgotten and these fears haunt them for years," said Leslie Morrison with Disability Rights California.

The investigation found teachers also using dangerous restraint techniques, duct-taping children to chairs, pinning them to the ground, causing injuries. CBS 5 Investigates found often, parents weren't even told.

After seeing CBS 5's reports, Congressman George Miller (D-Martinez) said: "I am embarrassed because its my home state.

Miller authored the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act 35 years ago to protect children and chairs the House Education and Labor Committee. But Miller said even he had no idea until now about these problems in schools, especially public schools.

"What your investigation pointed out is that these practices continue," he said. "It's surprising, it's also outrageous."

CBS 5 investigates found those practices aren't limited to California and uncovered incidents across the country.

The most recent report from an advocacy group showed at least 4 children have died from the use of restraints and seclusion in schools, including a 7-year-old girl from Wisconsin.

"She was bubbling milk in her class and wouldn't stay still," said Jane Hudson with the National Disability Rights Network. She said that girl was held in a seclusion room.

"Some are like coffins and some are 3.5 by 5 foot rooms. It's just a horrible thing that is happening to our children," Hudson said.

Rep. Miller said the government will now be investigating as well. "We've asked the GAO to give us assistance in that. They do these kinds of forensic investigations," he said.

None of the California schools involved in the incidents we reported were willing to go on camera. State education officials also turned down CBS 5 Investigates request for an on-camera interview.

So Congressman Miller told CBS 5: "I know a lot of people declined to discuss it with you. We'll be happy to have them discuss it with the Congress of the United States, because we are very, very interested. We spend a lot of money, federal dollars, in school systems. But we do not spend it to have children treated in that fashion."

A bill that would have restricted to use of restraints and seclusion in California schools made it through the state legislature last year, but Governor Schwarzenegger vetoed it. Just this month it was re-introduced by Assemblywoman Fiona Ma of San Francisco.