Mom unaware autistic child put in 'seclusion room'

Mom unaware autistic child put in 'seclusion room'

BEAVERTON, Ore. – A mother of an autistic child says she was unaware her son was being put into a seclusion room at school.

"I first heard about safe rooms from a KATU story in the fall," said Martha LaMarche. "I didn't even know they had it available.

KATU has led the coverage of "seclusion cells." Those are the small units some schools were using with disabled kids when they posed a risk to other students, staff or themselves with their behavior.

LaMarche's son, Will, was put into the room (can be viewed in the gallery) at Greenway Elementary because he was biting, scratching and hitting teachers. But LaMarche was surprised to learn her son had been put in the same room before and more than just a few times.

"When you have a child that's nonverbal, and they can't come home and tell you, 'Hey Mom, I got locked in a room that's 10 by 10, carpeted, hard walls.' And it just hurts you to your core," she said.

LaMarche says despite daily correspondence with her son's teachers about his activities and behavior at school, she only found out about this seclusion room after watching KATU's coverage last fall about the controversial rooms elsewhere.

"And I thought to myself, 'I'm so glad they don't have one of those rooms at my son's school,'" she said. "Two weeks later, I get a call from his teacher saying that Will had had a really off day, and he'd been placed in a safe room. And as we delved deeper into the situation, we learned that Will had been placed over 20 times the previous year in the safe room without our knowledge."

She asked the Beaverton School District to stop. It is considering her request but Danielle Sheldrake, special education director for the district, said it plans to continue using the room.

But what if parents are adamant that their child should not be placed in the room?

"You've told us we can't, so then we need to look at how else can we educate your child, which may mean not in a Beaverton School District school," Sheldrake said.

It's a strong stance, and asked whether she really believed in the value of the room, Sheldrake said, "I believe in the value of being able to educate Beaverton students in the Beaverton School District. That is our priority."

LaMarche says she's not against having a safe room where children like her son can go to calm down. But she thinks at the very least the walls of such a room should be padded. She said her son is prone to banging his head on the wall or on the floor, especially when he's upset.

KATU's investigation into seclusion rooms all began with a news tip from a viewer. If you have a story for the investigators, email them at investigators@katu.com.