Elementary school locks kids who misbehave in therapeutic box

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Controversy abounds in southwestern Washington after a mother posted photos on Facebook of a padded, cell-like room not much larger than a telephone booth at Mint Valley Elementary School in Longview.

The school principal said the school uses the room, termed an “isolation booth,” for students with behavioral disabilities, reports Portland’s ABC affiliate KATU-TV.

The superintendent of Longview Public Schools has called the booth a useful therapeutic tool for special-needs students, according to KATU. Apparently, the school district has been locking kids in boxes for years.

Washington state law allows public schools to use “seclusion” rooms as a way of dealing with misbehaving kids, according to KATU, but only as a last resort.

Sandy Catt, a spokesperson for the school district, told the station that some parents allow the school to place their kids in the booth if the school deems it necessary, because the children could harm others or themselves as a result of their behavior.

The parents who gave the district permission to place their kids in the booth have not complained, Catt also noted.

Catt said these students sometimes voluntarily enter the booth — which appears to have a heavy steel locking bar on the outside — when they want some quiet time.

One mother, Candace Dawson, who has since moved to another part of the state, alleges that officials at Mint Valley Elementary put her son in the booth without her prior approval.

“He said that’s the naughty room,” Dawson told KATU News. “He said when kids are naughty they get put in there.”

Dawson asserted that she hadn’t been aware of the booth’s existence until she happened to see her son’s old school in the news. Her son was visibly uneasy when she questioned him about it, she said. He claimed that a teacher had sent him to the booth when he was a student there, presumably for therapy.

Dawson, who told KATU that she planned to file a complaint, said that her son has exhibited behavioral problems in the past but that she did not — and would never — permit a school to place her son in such a booth.

Pictures of the isolation booth came to light after Ana Bate’s 10-year-old son saw it because he had been sent to the office for his playground antics.

As the boy sat near the booth, reportedly for some four hours, he became concerned as school officials placed other students inside the tiny booth.

“[He was] thinking it was scary, it was abusive, are they gonna do this to me?” Bate said, according to KATU.

Bate was able to snap photos of the booth the next day. She then posted them on Facebook.

The school district is currently reviewing how the isolation booth should be used in the future.

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Eric Owens