MIDDLETOWN, Conn. (CBSNewYork/AP) — Federal education officials have launched a civil rights investigation into a Connecticut elementary school’s practice of isolating students with disabilities in small rooms when they have emotional outbursts.

The U.S. Department of Education’s civil rights office is reportedly looking into whether officials at Farm Hill School in Middletown discriminated against children with disabilities by putting them in areas denounced as “scream rooms” where children are put inside small, windowless spaces until they calm down.

Administrators initially defended the use of what they referred to as “timeout rooms.” They had apparently been in use for some time, but many parents said they only recently learned of their existence.

Parents’ outrage grew as they learned of nine separate calls to 911 concerning students inside the room.

Nineteen advocates and lawyers recently filed a complaint with the department. State officials are also investigating.

Middletown’s superintendent of schools, Michael Frechette, says he has directed staff to limit use of the so-called “timeout rooms” to students who have a special classification under a state law that allows for seclusion of those with disabilities.

(TM and Copyright 2012 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2011 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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