FL Parent Says School Misuses its
Abhi Raghunathan, St. Petersburg Times, October 13, 2005
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is considered so harsh the state urges it be used only as a last
resort. It's called "secured seclusion" and allows teachers to
confine children, many of whom suffer from severe emotional
problems, in tiny, sealed rooms.
Just one school in Hernando County currently uses a timeout room
for isolating troubled kids. The small space at Deltona
Elementary can be shut with an electromagnetic lock.
The room is now at the center of a state inquiry into the
school's exceptional student education program, which provides
for the instruction of kids with learning disabilities.
The inquiry was prompted by the complaints of Christine Trueman,
32, who says she has pleaded with instructors at Deltona for at
least five years not to put her son, now 9, in the timeout room.
She told them he is autistic and suffers seizures. Last month,
Trueman said, her son once banged his head on the walls of the
timeout room for 28 minutes.
But, Trueman says, the instructors keep locking him in the room.
She says they do it without her consent, which state guidelines
require. And she says they do it for minor infractions, like
when he doesn't do his math work.
In emergency incident reports, school officials wrote that
Trueman's son didn't follow instructions and pushed chairs and
tables. They also wrote that he threw other objects around the
room and refused to do his work, sometimes ripping up papers.
When she has complained to school and district officials,
Trueman says, they have told her teachers can use the timeout
room without her consent. So she recently filed a formal
complaint with the state Department of Education, which has
begun the inquiry. State education officials said they normally
open inquiries into complaints that cannot be resolved right
"With my son's medical condition, he's not supposed to be in
there," Trueman said. "But he's always in there."
In addition to looking into Deltona's timeout room, state
education officials are examining whether the district is
following an individual education plan for Trueman's son and if
he is getting other assistance for his medical issues, such as
going to the bathroom.
While the state allows districts to establish procedures on how
to use timeout rooms, it issued a set of guidelines to oversee
the practice in a 1992 technical assistance paper. A Department
of Education spokeswoman said those guidelines remain in effect.
The guidelines call for secured seclusion to be used only when
other measures to discipline a child have failed. The guidelines
also call for parental consent, and say the practice should be
used only in drastic cases, such as "to prevent acute self-mutilative
behavior" or "in an emergency when student shows evidence that
he or she may injure others."
"Parental notification is essential," the guidelines say.
"Before secured seclusion can be used with a student, the school
should have on file a permission slip signed and dated by the
parent/guardian; this should be updated annually."
Liz Weber, the district's director of exceptional student
education, said she could not comment because there is an open
inquiry into Trueman's complaints and she did not want to breach
Deltona principal Beverly Chapin also said she could not
comment, but stood by the school's teachers. Deltona is one of
the district's "center schools" for ESE, a designation that
signifies it has the resources and staff to deal with
learning-disabled kids. About 30 percent of the school's 1,033
students are classified as ESE.
"We just have an excellent ESE program. I really do believe
that," Chapin said. "We do follow the district's safety
Weber said the timeout room at Deltona meets all state
construction requirements, which specify the room be at least 40
square feet and have a window so instructors can observe the
kids they put inside. State rules also require the
electromagnetic locks on timeout rooms to engage only when an
instructor stands at the door and pushes a button or other
The construction rules force instructors to make sure the kids
don't hurt themselves while isolated.
But the behavioral problems that force teachers to lock some
troubled children in sealed rooms also make the punishment
especially hard on kids like Trueman's son.
Her son, whom the Times is not naming because he is a minor,
often comes home with soiled clothes. Even though he's in the
fourth grade, he is still academically at a second-grade level,
The boy also suffers from autism, a neurological disability that
impairs social interaction and communication skills, according
to the Autism Society of America. He has other physical problems
as well: Trueman has given school officials notes from her son's
doctor, who asked them to monitor her son's heart rate during
times of stress.
"Also, this patient has a seizure disorder. Please do not allow
him to bang his head on a wall," Dr. Russell T. Bain wrote in a
Sept. 27 note.
Timeout rooms can help emotionally troubled kids who are
clamoring for attention, for example, by giving them a quiet
sanctuary. Some school districts say the rooms can provide a
valuable way for teachers to control classrooms.
Pasco schools have 13 secured seclusion rooms. Scott Larson, an
exceptional student education supervisor in Pasco County, said
the rooms allow children to take a break so they can return to
learning with their classmates.
"They have a safe place," he said. "Sometimes when they have
time to think about what they're doing ... kids can get quiet."
In recent years, however, many schools have abandoned the
practice, believing it does little to change a student's
behavior or teach other lessons. Lise Fox, a University of South
Florida professor in the department of child and family studies,
said research has produced far better alternatives.
Fox said schools now try to identify the factors in a curriculum
or school environment that cause emotionally troubled students
to misbehave. Then, she said, schools change those factors so
kids can behave and participate in class rather than being
confined in isolation.
"You should try to understand (why) a child is behaving in such
a manner, and figure out a plan," Fox said.
But Trueman says Deltona officials have failed to do that.
Instead of making changes to her son's curriculum, she said,
district officials are resorting to the timeout room, which she
says should never be used because she has refused to give her
consent for him to be put in such a room.
Trueman has asked, for example, for her son to learn on a
computer rather than filling out handouts. She said teachers
just don't respond to such requests.
Trueman has complained about her son's treatment before, and
gotten results. After the U.S. Office of Civil Rights began
investigating her claim that her son was missing too many
classes because of school bus issues, district officials offered
to pay for 120 hours of instruction at Sylvan Learning Center.
His bus was getting him to Deltona too late and making him go
home too early.
School officials also resolved other complaints about her son's
education before the end of the federal investigation in January
Trueman, who lives in Spring Hill, knows how difficult it is for
teachers to educate kids with severe emotional problems.
"I do feel bad for the teachers," Trueman said. "It is a tough
job, and I think the county needs to start spending the money
for these kids."
But she's tired of watching her son regress academically, of
watching him come home with bruises, or soiled clothes, or
little new knowledge, and of knowing he spends a chunk of many
school days locked in the secured seclusion room.
"It's been the same problems for years," she said. "They keep
giving me the runaround."
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