Adapted from an article written by Laurie Levy, HuffPost Contributor (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/locked-in-a-closet-school-discipline-for-a-child-with_us_592ee080e4b0d80e3a8a3234)
She’s only in first grade, weighs around 50 pounds and is a bit over three feet tall. And she was locked in a closet at school, crying hysterically for 45 minutes, supposedly because her behavior posed a threat to herself or others and could not be managed by her teacher, the school social worker, or any other available adult.
The closet, euphemistically called the “Calm Down Room,” has a panel window that permits an adult to look in, but the window is blocked by taped-on paper from the floor to four feet from the ground and also at the top, so the child cannot look out. This also makes the closet rather dark. The light switch, which is on the outside of the closet, was off. The child was repeatedly slapping the window with her hands but was not tall enough to see anything. The room is empty with bare white cinderblock walls and white linoleum floors. It looks like a solitary confinement cell in prison. No rug or soft toys or books. No padding anywhere if the child in the throes of a meltdown hit her head on the wall or floor. No calming pictures or music.
According to a lengthy study of restraint and seclusion laws, what took place should not have happened. Children have died or been seriously injured in seclusion rooms like this one. Add to that the trauma of being locked in a bare closet alone for 45 minutes when you are 6 or 7 years old. No, this should not happen.
At the preschool Laurie Levy directed, which included ten percent of children with special needs in its population, kids sometimes “lost it”. The first response of the teachers and aides was to bring the child to a quiet area of the room. Usually, this would be a cozy area with books and soft toys. An adult would sit near the child and offer to read a story, hold the child on her lap and hug him, or sit near him while speaking gently. If this failed, a teacher or aide often took the child for a walk to get a drink of water. Every effort would be made to de-escalate the problem and return the child to classroom activities.
Additional observations provided by Levy:
- The time out or calm down room is supposed to be big enough to accommodate the child and “any other individual who is required to accompany that student.” This means there is an assumption that an adult will sit in the room with the child. That would have been less frightening for a first grader.
- The adult responsible for the child must be able to see her at all times. The way the window was covered makes it unlikely that happened for all 45 minutes the little girl was alone in that room.
- Staff dealing with isolation and restraint must be certified in Crisis Intervention Training (CPI), a program that teaches educators how to defuse and de-escalate situations before isolation or restraint is needed. I doubt the substitute teacher was certified.
- Parents of children in special education need to know about and agree to the use of isolation or restraint if there is no other way to manage their child’s behavior. They also must be informed every time these behavior management techniques are used. No way to know if this happened here, but the child is very young and may not have been able to tell anyone what had happened.
(image description: a wooden door shut with the glass covered by yellow, black and white paper. The 3 white sheets of paper a cut into cloud shapes and say calm down room.)