As the director of the Washington Autism Alliance, Arzu Forough hears a lot of bad stories about special needs students being mistreated in school.
When behavior becomes violent and a student is at risk of hurting themselves or others, Forough said, a teacher can put a child in what’s known as a quiet or isolation room if they have the parents’ permission.
“The rooms I’ve seen are either three-quarter doors or have large windows where the child is visible to the staff member,” Forough said. “There are either bean bags in there or something comfortable for the student to sit on.”
But Forough said the room is a lot different from the padded room being used at Mint Valley Elementary School in Longview. A concerned parent posted photos of the room after her son told her he saw teachers putting special needs students in the booth for simple things like crying and tapping on their desks.
The district insists the room isn’t used as punishment.
“It is not used as punishment,” said Sandy Catt, communications director for the Longview School District. “It is used as a treatment in lieu of a physical hold or accepted therapeutic restraint for a child.”
Forough feels many districts across the country are out of touch when it comes to working with special needs students. She said rural districts especially may lack the funding for staff and training.
Catt said the children put in the isolation room in Longview all come from a classroom of nine special needs student with a teacher and two aides. The parents of all nine children gave permission for their child to be put in this isolation room, Catt said, and none have complained about its use.
In light of this story, the district is checking in with each of those families to see if they have any concerns.
Seattle Public Schools does not have any isolation rules, but the Kent School District has 14 of them. In April, an elementary school in Olympia came under fire after a child was allegedly left in an isolation room for hours.
In order for a review of Mint Valley Elementary to happen, State Schools Superintendent Randy Dorn’s office said it would have to receive a formal complaint alleging the school violated state or federal special education laws.