A Texas mom says she stopped by her son’s elementary school Wednesday after he got in trouble for a cafeteria food fight, and was shocked to discover the 9-year-old had been locked in a tiny, frigid “focus room”—basically solitary confinement for kids.
The boy, Alex, told his mom that the staff at Carl Schurz Elementary in New Braunfels made him sit in a small circle in the center of the room and told him that if he kept still for 90 minutes, he’d be allowed back in the classroom. But Alex said he couldn’t do it because the room was too cold. He ended up in a corner with his arms tucked inside his shirt, while an administrator allegedly sat on an exercise ball, taunting him with her warm jacket.
On a blog Alex’s parents set up to document the incident, they’ve posted what Alex told them about the “focus room,” along with the photos his mom was able to take before a vice principal allegedly made her leave.
Parents - What is that room Alex?
Alex - It’s called the “focus room”. And it’s where bad children go and serve their in-school suspension (ISS).
Parents – How many times have you been in that room?
Alex – Almost every day, once for two straight days.
Parents – is it always cold?
Alex – Yes! I asked if I could get my jacket and was told no, the teach put her own jacket on and said “It’s sure nice to be warm”.
Parents – Are they mean to you in that room?
Alex – Yes, sometimes they shout at me and say rude things.
Parents – What rude things do they say?
Alex – I don’t know, I don’t want to talk about it.
Parents – What if you get hungry or need to go to the bathroom?
Alex – You’re not allowed! You don’t get your regular snack either!
Parents – Are you allowed to get any exercise?
Alex – No, I’m stuck there all day and if I don’t do what they tell me they make me stay there longer, I have to go back tomorrow since I couldn’t sit in the circle because I was too cold…
Due to privacy laws, we are not able to provide any more detail about the student or the situation. You may hear the term ‘focus room’ or ‘safe room.’ These are two different environments. A ‘focus room’ is a classroom environment that allows for behavior intervention such as social skills lessons and counseling. A ‘safe room’ is used in times when a child is a danger to himself/herself or others.
If what Alex says is true, then “social skills” means sitting in a circle, and “counseling” means being taunted by an adult.
This isn’t the first elementary school in Texas to be investigated for subjecting students to solitary confinement. Less than a month ago, Dallas’s NBC 5 aired an exposé on the Plano Independent School District’s 15 “calm rooms” that are too small to meet state regulations.
Among the incidents they found on security video: an 8-year-old boy with autism screaming to be let out of a 36-square-foot padded room, and a teacher knocking him down and physically blocking the door.
The Plano district has 100 calm rooms in total, and told NBC 5 it’s not standard practice to use them as jail cells, hold the door closed, or lock students inside.