Wednesday, August 12, 2020
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Woman says teachers locked her son in a closet

A mother in Marion, Illinois, is suing special education teachers who, she says, confined her son in a closet-sized room at Marion Junior High School and harmed him physically in several encounters at the start of the 2015-16 school year, the Southern Illinoisan reports.

The boy, identified in the lawsuit only as JP, has been diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and oppositional defiant disorder, but his mother, Marionna Felts-Ping, a co-plaintiff, has charged a special education teacher and a teacher’s aide with

  • Confining her son for up to three hours in a 15-by-5-foot room
  • Twisting his arm, wrist, and pinky in order to force him to comply

She says in the lawsuit that her son was locked in this room, which has come to be known as “the hole,” “Closet No. 2,” and a few other names, “when there was no therapeutic necessity to do so, where he posed no risk to the safety of himself or others.”

Furthermore, the seclusion and mistreatment has caused JP to suffer “emotional, educational and behavioral injuries.”

More importantly, the lawsuit alleges that JP was locked in the room without an adult monitor being at least within earshot of the door, which was locked from the outside so that occupants of this timeout room couldn’t get out.

Ms Felts-Ping is suing not only the teachers who locked her son in the room but also the school, including Williamson County Education Services, Williamson County Special Education District and Marion Community Unit School District No. 2, based on what seems to be lax enforcement of discipline policies and special education services at the junior high.

I hope this suit opens up a conversation about disciplining special education students in schools. Kids of all stripes have the occasional meltdown and need a timeout—there’s little doubt about that. But seclusion is really a last resort, I would think. It shouldn’t be the first thing we try, and it shouldn’t be accompanied by arm-twisting, as alleged in the present lawsuit.

I would also hope lawsuits like this increase the amount of attention school officials pay to the discipline policies for special education students. A description of legal issues surrounding the abuse of seclusion rooms and restraints by school officials is available from Wright’s

“There’s also a way to work it out with your child or with any child. You know by talking. I mean, yeah, the mental capacities are different, but putting them in a room by themself just doesn’t make any sense,” KEZI-TV (ABC affiliate, Eugene, Oregon) quoted one parent as saying. “Trying to lock them up and quiet them down. It’s not helping the kid, it’s just only a temporary solution for the teacher it seems like.”

The parent in Oregon was reacting to a lawsuit filed last year against a school district by the grandfather of an elementary student who was apparently locked up in a “scream room.”

Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.

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