Parents confront school about seclusion room
Ottumwa Courier - 11/6/2017
Nov. 06--OTTUMWA -- A local couple is at odds with Ottumwa Community School District about its use of a seclusion room to isolate their autistic son when he becomes agitated.
David Prose is a second grader at Eisenhower Elementary School. In October, during an art class, David became upset because he didn't finish his project, says his father, Adam. School officials told David's parents that David kicked a file cabinet and was removed from class and taken to the seclusion room to calm down, Adam says.
According to David's father, the boy's Individualized Education Program (IEP) states that if David becomes agitated he is to be removed from class until he regains control, but the Proses don't like that their son was taken to the seclusion room for that purpose.
An IEP is a written statement for a child with a disability that describes the student's special educational program, according to the Iowa Department of Education. "Each IEP is a legal document that spells out, among other things, the special education services, activities and supports each student will receive."
David's IEP specifies that he have a paraprofessional who stays with him throughout the school day, his father says. It stipulates that the school inform the parents when David is taken out of class, but Adam says they found out about the use of the seclusion room from their son and not from the school.
The school has told them when David was removed to the special education room, but not when he went to "time out," Adam says.
The seven-year-old is autistic but has a genius IQ according to his father, who says the boy was tested by Belin-Blank Center in Iowa City.
In an audio file provided by Adam, Marci Prose, David's mother, surreptitiously records an October 3 conversation with a woman she identifies as Dana Warnecke, Eisenhower Elementary principal. In the recording, Marci asks to see the timeout room and is granted her request.
Marci asks if David's paraprofessional was with him during the timeout.
"I wasn't here, but I imagine she was close by," says the woman identified as Warnecke. "Usually you don't even have to close the door with him sometimes."
Another voice on the recording interrupts to say that she was present during the incident, that the door was open and that David's paraprofessional and another staff member were with him, "Because they were talking to him most of the time."
Marci says in the audio file, "I know that when we went to the Belin-Blank clinic they said that they didn't even want him to sit in the hallway... as seclusion, so I'm thinking that if we're secluding him in a room that that's really against what they recommended for him."
"He's not being secluded when he's in control of himself," says Warnecke in the recording. "This is only when he's a little escalated.... And it's happened once, obviously, this year."
Marci tells Warnecke in the recording that David did not want to go back to school because he didn't want to be put in the room that he referred to as "the dungeon."
David is currently not attending school, says his father.
The Iowa Department of Education allows schools to physically confine students under certain conditions. "Physical confinement and detention means the confinement of a student in a timeout room or some other enclosure whether within or outside the classroom from which the student's egress is restricted."
IDE regulations require such a room to be of reasonable dimensions and free from hazards. They must have sufficient light and adequate ventilation and a comfortable temperature, and adequate and continuous adult supervision.
Physical confinement and detention is not to be used as discipline for minor infractions and may be used only after other disciplinary techniques have been attempted, IDEP regulations say. The school must attempt to notify the child's parent or guardian on the same day and must provide the parent or guardian a written copy of documentation of the incident.
Ottumwa Community School District officials would not answer questions about the seclusion room, its purpose, use or standard procedures for its use, but issued the following statement:
"On the advice of legal counsel, we are not commenting on a specific student matter. There is a small population of students that may have occasion to use a timeout area, and we cannot disclose information that may violate their privacy or otherwise identify them."
"We've been somewhat vocal about it on social media," says Adam. "Our goal is to at least retrain the district," but ultimately he would like to see the school discontinue the use of the seclusion room.
The case is currently in mediation.
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