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"Safe rooms" in public schools

post #1 of 19
Thread Starter 

Has anyone's child been put in one when he would not calm down or stop crying? My anxiety child was mistakenly put in one yesterday - very upsetting to me and him. I have handled it nicely (I think) and the teachers agree that it was a mistake and not appropriate for a non-aggressive, severely anxious child. His special ed. and general ed. teacher knew nothing about it until I told them that his brief morning visit to an ED class to calm down (stop crying and asking for Mom) got him confined!   


Anyone else have experience with this? What would you have done? 

post #2 of 19

Did someone stay in the room with him? I suppose I could see an adult taking an inconsolable child to another room (whatever room is available) to try to help them calm down if it was extremely disruptive or upsetting to the other children, or if the other kids were "in the way" trying to be helpful. However, I cannot imagine putting a young child who is simply anxious and upset but not aggressive in any way in a room by themselves (especially in a strange environment)... I really hope that is not what happened! My 6 y.o. DS has been known to cry inconsolably for hours, although now it is shorter and less frequent. When he was younger I would have understood if his childcare provider needed to leave the room for a few minutes in order to be able to come back and deal with him effectively. When he started school I told the teacher we expected him to cry (a lot), and he did, but she always kept him in the classroom although she did not push him to actively participate when he was upset. Lately he has had a few days when he has been more emotional and anxious again, and he has spent some time with the principal in his office instead of in the classroom (not sent there, but invited there by the principal), which has actually been really positive for him. I would be very unhappy if he was sent to a "safe room" by himself, as he is not a child who would be aggressive when upset and it would do nothing except make him more anxious and upset! I would most likely discuss the situations and my concerns with it immediately with whoever I had the best rapport with out of the teacher(s) involved and principal/vice principal (for us this year that would be the principal, but in previous years we dealt primarily with the teachers regarding any concerns), and then I would also try to arrange a meeting ASAP with everyone involved to discuss making a plan for how to support my child as a team so that everyone is on the same page and we all agree on how to deal with future situations both in terms of proactive strategies and also the actions to be taken when he is already very upset.

post #3 of 19

I would find out what your state law is regarding isolating children at school as a point of reference.


Then I would request an IEP meeting within the next week with all involved and/or who should have been involved (IEP meetings also have legal requirements as to participants) and detail what will happen in the future if your child needs to be removed from a situation (she will not be left without an adult, her primary teacher and/or special ed teacher will be contacted immediately upon removal to further handle the situation, etc.), and that appropriate staff training will be provided within X amount of time (often sorely lacking).


When my ds was in 1st grade he did not yet have an IEP but his teacher and I did work out that all his other teachers would contact her if ds became uncommunicative or his behavior unusually disruptive (what normal reminders couldn't correct); prior to that actions other teacher might take would either make the situation worse or were inappropriately punitive. One time that year my dh was called to school by ds' teacher as even she could not help ds.



A Terrifying Way to Discipline Children ... - The New York Times

State laws on disciplining students vary widely, and there are no federal laws restricting these practices, although earlier this year Education Secretary Arne Duncan wrote, in a federal guide for schools, that there was “no evidence that using restraint or seclusion is effective.” He recommended evidence-based behavioral interventions and de-escalation techniques instead.

Edited by Emmeline II - 9/13/12 at 4:29pm
post #4 of 19
Thread Starter 

Wow, that article was startling! I didn't realize schools could do that. The photo in the article is pretty much how my son would describe his experience.  


My DS actually looked ill when he got off the bus that day. When I asked him how his day was he said "Bad! A big person put me in a closet and locked me in and was laughing outside"  Just to explain, when my son arrives at school usually dropped off by myself or husband since he can't handle the bus so he sometimes goes to an "Emotionally Disturbed" class for a short time where he is supposed to calm down and stop crying before he gets to go to his regular class of 22 other kids or when his very kind special ed teacher comes to get him. He has a terrible time separating and says school is "scary."  


That day I was actually still in the school and an assistant was in the ED class who was unknown to me and DS and she is the one who put him in there. That said, the lead teacher was there too and knew of my sons severe anxiety and there were only 3 other kids in the class that morning. The art teacher who has a good rapport with him came and got him out knowing it was wrong (I guess she heard him).  I went in this morning and the Vice Principle said it was a mistake and even being in that class even for a short time may not be good because the other children have more severe behaviors that my DS does not have. I asked to see the "safe room" and in this case it is in the place of where the bathroom should be in other classes. It is just a small totally empty room/closet with a door that can lock from the outside and a window so the teacher can see in. It scared me to be honest and I know it would totally freak him out since he does not even like being in his own bedroom alone or fall asleep alone yet!  


He does have an IEP now and we are meeting again next week to discuss everything where I will specifically say we do not want him in that room ever!  Especially since he is not aggressive or trying to be disruptive or uncooperative - he just cries in the mornings and then all day is nervous or never at ease wanting to know "Is it time to go home yet?" "Is it time to see my Mom yet?" when he has someone nearby who may answer him.   


I am glad to know that we can request and have specifics in place as to what to do and what not to do now we have the IEP. Thanks Emmeline.

post #5 of 19

holy cow. I would plant myself in the principals office until this is resolved. This is so, so, so far from what a child with anxiety needs. I would need to witness the principal informing the person who made this call as well as the others who have frequent contact with my child that this is never to be done again.


Or I would pull my child.


the person who did this was LAUGHING while torturing a child. They need to loose their job.

post #6 of 19

Unfortunately this is the reality even in many fine public school environments.  The school discussed in the NY times article is an area school close to where I live that is VERY highly regarded.  The principal is over the local stations disputing the story and inviting the media into the school to restore trust.


If I were you, I would consider taking it a step beyond your child.  In my child's school they have a "quiet room" and a year ago, a very active and thoughtful parent of a child with anxiety, like your own, advocated that the quiet room door be taken off.  She got the professionals to "think" beyond what they were doing and since no one is trying to hurt children and that isn't why they do what they do they did work together to create a quiet room to calm down without shutting someone anyone inside. 


They created a "cave" instead, with a few bean bags, soft furry walls and gym mats on the floor.  Really soothing and a wonderful place for for calming down.  And, they took the door off!


If they won't go for it, keep talking to them.  I, personally, would not trust that your child won't be put back into the room unless it is specifically written into his IEP that isolation will not be used.  Please make sure you place that into his IEP.  Even then, I wouldn't completely trust it because  It can take a number of years of the same people working with your child to be working together well and on the same plan and new para's come into the mix every year.  I would be very very attentive to this issue and over time work with your school to come up with other alternatives to the room they use.

post #7 of 19

I read that article and was absolutely horrified, I wouldn't keep my son in that school another day if they did that to him. I'm close to where that school is too and can vouch that it's extremely highly regarded, so horrifying.

post #8 of 19

Just Google 'public school seclusion rooms' and you will get stories like this one where a 14 year old boy killed himself while in a "safe room".



I don't think there is any place for such a room in any school! I would not trust the school to never use it again regardless of what is in the IEP. Personal experience has led me to find that a lot of children's IEPs are not properly implement or even down right ignored.


I like what livinglife said about removing the door and really creating a safe space.


Sorry if I am being over reactive. This is a super hot button issue for me. I am personally outraged that they did this to your child! Unacceptable!

post #9 of 19

I'm so sorry.  Has this affected his anxiety level?  I'd be really upset too. 

post #10 of 19
Thread Starter 

I am SO Mad right now. I just got this brief email from the teacher since I recounted the story from my DS's side and her response is:


To make this perfectly clear it was not my assistant Mrs. ..... who put Phoenix in the time out room.  S....i R....  Sped Project Rebound Ed teacher from the Office of Special Education was observing my classroom and took Phoenix to the time out room using the "handle with care" method. 


That was it! Defending themselves! As if a Time Out for a child crying for his Mom is appropriate!! Thank you ladies for the support. The quite room idea is fantastic but doubt they will go for it. This school is newly constructed and last year was the very first year so these rooms were actually built-in for that purpose!! I had no idea.  


I think an advocate may be needed soon. They say he will not even go into this classroom again but I am obviously worried. We home-schooled from December last year and just never imagined this would happen this year as everyone else is very good and he has the IEP. I just realize I need to be on them ALL the time. I will update with anything new.  

post #11 of 19

So someone you're son, with anxiety, didn't know, took him out of his classroom to a "safe room", and this is the response you got?  Wow!  I'm in a rage for you and your son.  That is absolutely awful!

post #12 of 19

Document, document, document and save everything! You are absolutely right, your child needs an advocate! What exactly is the "handle with care method"???  Email them back and ask this question. You need it described to you in writing. Ask for the entire incident to be described in writing.


We hired an advocate and eventually an attorney. I wish I could say more about our situation as a way to give advice but we are going through Due Process.

post #13 of 19

You are right you need to be on them like glue.  From my experience, I needed to work with his school and insist I be "part of the team" until they knew my thoughts and how I consider things.  This was a couple of years of his school life by the way!  Of course, it is a long time, a big commitment and a lot of parents are working outside the home and have no time for this.  They often don't know what methods are used to assist their child or if their child's IEP is even adhered to.  I used to meet with my child's special education teacher once a week until I knew that they were adhering to my child's IEP and he was safe at school.  In my child's case it was his classroom teacher who was uncooperative.  His special education teacher needed me to be making a "stink" to get the regular ed teacher to take notice that his methods were off and he was breaking the law by not modifying his curriculum.  You would not BELIEVE the amount of political and personality jockeying that goes on at your local public schools to the detriment of the child and meeting their needs.


I would request an immediate meeting with the team to create an amendment to his IEP specifying exactly the procedures to be followed when your child experiences anxiety.  Then, it is a "legal document" and you have more leverage with the school.  You don't need an advocate to do this.  Look on line and research sample IEP's for children with anxiety.


In my mind, and making it clear to the teacher, it matters not at all whose aide brought your child to this room.  She, his teacher, is his advocate over the course of the day.  She and his special education teacher should be taking the lead to inform all the allied professionals who will ever encounter him during the day the proper way to manage his needs.  School teams often meet weekly or biweekly to review specific children and school issues relating to the care and teaching of children.  They need to do this for your child.


Force the issue to their attention so that they review your child and who he is, all together, so that their awareness is raised as to how to treat his issues.


I am sorry you are having to deal with this but truly it isn't uncommon.  They are not bad teachers or a bad school.  Often it takes parents who are sensitized to help bring staff up to best practices.  You also have more allies at the school then you imagine.  Often staff who see this and know it's wrong feel like they have to keep quiet.  You are doing everyone a favor by standing up for your child.

post #14 of 19

So is the teacher saying that she thinks the correct action was taken?? I hope she is just trying to clarify exactly what actions were taken and by whom... I actually think it's even worse someone who is observing and not regularly in the classroom (and doesn't know him at all) took him there.


Lots of schools set up a quiet area with beanbag chairs  or mats, and calming sensory activities in a small area of a room that is blocked off by a room divider or inside a tent, so they do not necessarily have to take a door off a room to set up an area that kids can use to help with calming. This might be an option if they are not willing to take the door off, but would be willing to offer an alternate area to children who just need a quiet space to calm down. You could then specify that your child can be offered the quiet space to calm down, but is not, under any circumstances, to be placed in the safe room.


I hope you are able to get this resolved and quickly so that your child is able to have positive experiences at school!

post #15 of 19
Thread Starter 
Originally Posted by QueenOfTheMeadow View Post

So someone you're son, with anxiety, didn't know, took him out of his classroom to a "safe room", and this is the response you got?  Wow!  I'm in a rage for you and your son.  That is absolutely awful!

Yes, exactly! His anxiety isn't worse because of it, but it is pretty severe all the time. He is always anxious before school and separating at school. I think he may be doing a tiny bit better because he is so worried he will end up back in there. When my DH walked him to his gen ed. class this morning and they had to pass by that room he moved to the other side of the hall, dropped his head and pulled DH along with him. That is not a way I want my son to feel in school. I have email the VP and his Special ed. teacher (not the ED teacher who did this and defends it) saying I want it all documented and an amendment to his IEP and told them when we are available. Also, that this particular class is not appropriate and the "Safe room" is also out of the question and needs to be documented. We will see what they say and what the meeting brings. I think they will agree. This particular ED teacher and class is new and they have known me now for over a year and this is the first time I have created a stink about anything. I just think this teacher needs to be held accountable and my son needs fair and proper treatment. I mean seriously, it was on Day 6 of the school year!!!  Not that it would have been better if it was 4 months in but this is definitely not a way to start a year. A little patience on their part was all that was needed. 

post #16 of 19

Good for you!!  You sound ready to advocate.  Please let us know how it goes.

post #17 of 19

Has anyone's child been put in one when he would not calm down or stop crying?


I'm speaking from the teaching end of things.  It happens, and I've seen it done in some of the schools I've worked at.  However, it is rarely appropriate for a non-aggressive child in a regular school setting.  Generally there's almost always a better way of managing behaviors when kids have meltdowns/outbursts than locking them in a room.  When you have the kinds of kids who are unable to cope either in a mainstream environment (regular classes) or in a self-contained setting (a special education classroom), that's the stage when other placement options should be explored.  It is my opinion that the practice of having "safe rooms" in a standard public school environment should be completely abolished because they're a technique intended for a more psychiatric/restrictive setting and public school employees as a rule do not have that kind of training or experience, and should not be pretending to have it.


What would you have done?


As a parent, definitely have a sit down and figure out a better way of managing the behavior at school--whatever that looks like for your individual situation and the variables you have to work with.


As a teacher (I work with teenagers): 


There's a whole continuum of possible responses of student behavior.  I deal with a lot of it through prevention.  I have a lot of communication routines that I use so I'm aware of who is already having a bad day before they even get to school.  My room is set up in such a way that I can accommodate a wide variety of students and their varying needs.  I have spaces in my classroom where kids can go "take a break" if they're getting overwhelmed (I always have quite a few students on the autism spectrum, a few who have anger management issues, and generally at least one kid with an EBD).  There's places in the room where students can sit if they prefer to work alone, need less visual stimulation, or are out sight from the rest of the class.  I keep calming materials for students who are using "time out spaces" so students will have something to distract themselves with while they're there (fidgets, sensory items, books about animals, pictures of puppies, etc).  Usually a student who is having a problem can stay in the classroom.  If they are so upset that they need to leave the room, there's a space right outside the classroom (where they can sit) that's easy to monitor, and I'll tell them to go take a break outside for a few minutes. I rarely have a problem with anyone wandering off.  If someone has escalated to the point where physical violence/property damage is likely,  I get then out of the room and take them outside for a few minutes (so if they need to yell/scream/punch the wall) it's no big deal because there's nothing to break/no one who can get hurt outside the building.  (Usually what happens is they yell/scream for a few minutes, calm down fairly quickly, and come sit out in front of the room for a few more minutes, then come back to class).  This is also easy to do and I can still see my classroom from this spot.  We have a few counselors on site and if a student is having a major personal problem that they need to talk to someone about, talking to a counselor or the mental health consultant is another option. 


Oh, and if for some reason the whole class seems "off", I take them outside for a couple of laps around the building.  Works like a charm.


Only rarely do I get a student whose behavior requires me to bring in outside parties to help manage it.  I have never seen a student NOT calm down--even some of the most severe ones I've worked with. I know it's possible, but I have never seen it happen in real life...and I've done plenty of time in EBD classrooms.  If nothing else, you'd think they'd just summon a parent to come pick up the kid if they couldn't deal with them at school.


In other words, there are definitely more effective ways of dealing with students, even students with severe emotional and behavioral issues, than locking them in a room.  I'm pretty sure of THAT.

post #18 of 19
Thread Starter 

Thanks Sageowl. You sound like a great teacher. The school has since apologized to us and made amends with my son. However, the ED teacher and her visitor have been silent. We did have an IEP meeting and now it is documented that he will not go into her class or any ED classroom and should not be taken to a "Time Out" room.  


His gen. ed. teacher realized that was just too much transition for him anyway - 3 classes within the first 2 hours! One to calm down supposedly, one with gen. ed. then off to special ed then back again. So, now I think we have it straight and they have said we should commend him for doing so well since he has made huge strides since last year. I only wish those ED teachers knew that!  He just cries and has trouble separating when we drop him at the classroom door but after half an hour he has relaxed. Last year he did not eat all day at school and cried ALL day so I am relieved the experience did not ruin and break the trust he has with his other 2 teachers that he really likes. So, onward for a less anxious school year! But, I will still pop in now and then and make sure the IEP is implemented properly. 

post #19 of 19

We did have an IEP meeting and now it is documented that he will not go into her class or any ED classroom and should not be taken to a "Time Out" room.  




His gen. ed. teacher realized that was just too much transition for him anyway - 3 classes within the first 2 hours!


Yes, I agree.  Sheesh, even high school doesn't normally have that much transition time!  Definitely look at putting some transition improvement goals into the next IEP, that will pay off big time.  There's a lot of good strategies for improving transitions in academic settings that are really effective, but nobody will do them consistently unless they *have to*.


He just cries and has trouble separating when we drop him at the classroom door but after half an hour he has relaxed.


That's actually pretty common and something I've seen a lot in plenty of kids (a variety of ages).  The good news, is that it almost always goes about the way you describe--half an hour later, they're fine and ready to move on with things.  I'm glad you're seeing improvement though, it should get easier over time (as I like to say, kids get better at being in school the more practice they have).  I'm glad you're seeing an overall pattern of improvement in his adjustment/comfort level with school. 


I will still pop in now and then and make sure the IEP is implemented properly.


That is probably wise. 

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