BURLINGTON, Wash. — The Longview School District on Thursday suspended the use of a padded isolation booth for children at Mint Valley Elementary School that has sparked controversy.
“The district is gathering information and investigating incidents of the booth’s use,” district spokeswoman Sandy Catt said.
Several parents have complained about the room, and there are concerns that students who are not in special-needs classes have been put in the room as a disciplinary measure.
Q13 FOX News got a tour of a similar room in the Burlington School District on Thursday.
“If the public sees them and has concerns, that`s appropriate,” said the Burlington district’s head psychologist, Jeff Brown. “If they were used inappropriately, there certainly could be negative consequences.”
Brown says in Burlington, that`s not the case. The “calming” rooms are only in classrooms for special-needs students, and they are only a last resort for kids who may lash out violently at teachers or other students.
“At the point where you may be utilizing that room, you’re left with almost two options,” said Brown. “Do I physically lay hands on this student or do I have a place where the student can go through their escalation cycle?”
Alex Ellsworth, 11, is bipolar and has attention deficit disorder. He was one of the special-needs students who used the room.
“He could get very violent and he was hitting people, kicking people,” said Deborah Ellsworth, Alex’s mother. “It helped him to sit in the room and de-escalate before anybody got hurt.”
“It felt better to be in there than out in the classroom with other kids because it was easier for me to calm down,” Alex said.
The room has magnetic locks, so if a teacher steps away, the door unlocks. There is also a mirror so teachers don’t lose sight of the child.
Brown said the room is rarely used, and only with a parent’s permission.
“It gives them (children) a chance to work through their frustration, calm down to the point where we can sit in there, have a conversation with them, and then work through our process to bring them back out and continue their education.”
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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.