Education researcher Mary Hollowell spent months chronicling an alternative high school in rural Georgia before she discovered the awful secret that continues to haunt her today.
Walking with the principal down a hall, Hollowell heard a loud pounding. She followed the principal into a room and then through a connecting doorway that led to a solitary confinement cell double bolted from the outside.
“The cell was dark inside and had a small, square window,” she said. “It was the kind of set-up you saw in a mental institution, not a school.”
Inside the cell was a boy Hollowell recognized; she had tutored him in reading and even had artwork from him.
“I felt like I had been punched in the stomach when I realized what I was seeing,” she says. “The principal’s comment to me was that most people didn’t know this room was there.”
Hollowell hopes to make more people aware of such rooms — which she estimates are in use in 50 schools in Georgia — through her new book about her year in the alternative school, “The Forgotten Room.”
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