Albany -- A debate rages over what's fair discipline and what's cruel punishment for disabled students.
An angry mother is suing the Lee County School System because her autistic son was routinely put in a 3 by 6 foot room for acting out in class. She says it's nothing more than a closet and the punishment caused her son emotional distress.
But some educators defend these "time-out rooms."
The Lee County School Superintendent won't let us see the room involved in that lawsuit. But other school systems use similar "time out rooms."
We wanted to better understand what those rooms are and how they're used. Four new "time out rooms" or "quiet rooms" are under construction for the Oaktree psycho-educational program at Sylvandale School, so we sat down with the director of the program, Mike Mathis, in a time-out room, to find out why special education teachers use them.
"The time-out room is a place where we can take children so they can calm down, and settle down when they are in crisis," Mathis said. "The point of the time-out room is to remove all environmental stimuli, so that we can focus on the crisis, what's going on with the child so we can stabilize their behavior to prepare them to enter the classroom."
Just because you may not be familiar with the practice, doesn't mean it's new. "I've been with the school system for 33 years and time-out rooms have been here, since I've been here, so we've used time-out rooms for a long time."
Here's how the time-out room is supposed to work:
1-The purpose of entering this room is to learn how to develop alternative behavior, so they don't have to come back.
2-The teacher meets with the student about what happened from both points of view. Sometimes, the teacher even goes into the room with the student for the time-out period.
3-Once they figure out what triggered the outburst or tantrum, they discuss alternate ways of behaving, so not to have the same reaction again.
4-And they discuss what will happen when they leave the time-out room and re-enter the classroom and on a structured basis.
Sometimes when a student is sent to the time-out room, they have to go in alone, but the teachers can observe them from out here, just by looking through this window, which has been made wide enough that the teacher can observe them from anywhere in the room, even if the student walks all the way into the corner.
"We keep them in here no longer than what we have to, once the behavior stabilizes, the purpose is to get them back into the classroom." But is the time-out room successful? Have you seen proof that this works? "Absolutely."
"When they come in, they've gone through tribunals, multiple interventions and we bring them in here, and often times, we see, within six to eight weeks, their behavior stabilizes, we find the frequency in having to come to time out decreases dramatically."
Special education teachers meet with parents to discuss their child's individual education plan, which includes a behavioral plan.
If parents don't want their children sent to the time-out room, and the child continues to act out in class, disrupting other students ability to learn, the next option is to have the parent pick the child up from school.
Teachers with Oaktree are also trained to restrain students physically if the child is trying to hurt himself or someone else.