Friday, October 2, 2009

TN: Judge Rules Locked Seclusion Room Legal

NOTE: The Joseph Brown Elementary School is located in the Maury County Public School System in Columbia Tennessee. The 9 year old boy in this case was placed in a room with no interior handle in his underwear ; construction paper covered the door's window...This treatment has been deemed LEGAL in Tennessee....

Court sides with schools on seclusion rooms

Judge: No sign of wrongdoing


Educators at Joseph Brown Elementary School can resume using a seclusion room for unruly students after a judge ruled against a mother angered by the treatment of her 9-year-old son.

On Thursday Chancery Court Judge Jim Hamilton dismissed a petition by Michelle Parks, who had alleged school officials broke state law by stripping her son to his underwear and leaving him in a bare concrete room on Sept. 15.

However, Tasha Walker, the child’s teacher, said in a court hearing Tuesday the boy was put in the room, which features a steel door with a small window and no interior handle, after he had become aggressive and wrapped his shirt around his neck in what appeared to be a harmful manner. She also said he kicked her and head-butted an assistant.

Hamilton said evidence presented in the court hearing Tuesday showed there was no sign of wrongdoing.

There is no proof that the personnel at Joseph Brown Elementary School did not follow the statutory requirements when this child was placed in isolation,” the order reads.

Parks had asked the judge to bar educators from using the seclusion room and was granted an emergency injunction until a decision was made.

Kevin Latta, Parks’ attorney, said he respected the court’s decision and congratulated the school district.

“You can’t win them all,” he said. “The biggest concern is giving the student the help he needs as well as seeing to it that his education continues.”

A message left for School District Attorney Jake Wolaver was not immediately returned Thursday.

School spokeswoman Sharon Kinnard said the school district is content with Hamilton’s decision and that “it shows that we are following the rules and guidelines set forth by state and federal law as well as school board policy.”

“This ruling shows that we have dedicated employees that are well-trained and work hard to help every student prepare for the future,” she said.

Latta had claimed educators broke several guidelines in a state law passed in January by placing the boy in the seclusion room by himself with no way to get out. Walker testified Tuesday that when a student is being aggressive, a bar on the outside of the door is held to keep the student inside. Walker and other school officials testified the door’s handle had been removed and would always stay open if not held shut.

Latta also argued state law was violated when Walker placed a sheet of construction paper over the window, obstructing her view of the student.

However, Hamilton said the seclusion room use appeared to be “in the best interest and for the protection of the student...”

It is not intended to be punishment, rather it is done in hopes that the student will gather themselves and no longer be a threat to harm themselves, other students and staff,” the order states.

Kelley Woodside, the district’s special education supervisor, said the seclusion room is the only one of its kind in the Maury County School District. Since July 2008, the room has been used 45 times and only for the skills acquisition class at Brown Elementary, Woodside said. Currently, there are three students in the class at Brown and about 2,000 special needs children district-wide.

“This proof tells the Court that the other 1,997 Special Education students are being well cared for and the teachers in the schools these children attend are doing a good job,” the order states.

Hamilton commended Maury County special education teachers for their top-notch work.

“These Special Education teachers are a dedicated lot who must have a very strong commitment to try and help these unfortunate children live as near a normal life as they possibly can with their affliction,” the order states.

Latta said he and his client are undecided on how to move forward.

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