School district aims to ease concerns over 'isolation booth'

School district aims to ease concerns over 'isolation booth' »Play Video
One of the photos posted on Facebook shows the isolation box at Mint Valley Elementary School in Longview, Wash.

LONGVIEW, Wash. – A concerned mother who posted photos of an “isolation booth” in a Longview elementary school on Facebook said she wanted other parents to know how the school uses the space.

Ana Bate said her son saw the booth in use at Mint Valley Elementary School, and had questions.

The school principal said the padded room is used for students who have behavioral disabilities.

Parents of eight or nine students at the school have given permission for their kids to be placed in the booth if necessary.

“How come they’re not providing documentation about how this ‘therapeutic booth’ is beneficial?” said Bate. “Show me some real numbers. Show me something from the medical community that says more times than not and all the documentation that backs it up. Don’t tell me ‘well, their parents said we could do it.’”

The superintendent of Longview Public Schools said the booth is an effective therapy tool for students with special needs, and has been for years.

District spokeswoman Sandy Catt told KATU News students whose parents gave permission are placed in the booth when they are acting in a way that could be harmful to themselves or others.

None of the parents who gave the district permission to place their kids in the booth has complained, Catt said. But because of the many complaints from other parents, the district is reviewing how the booth is used.

“I believe that room has served a good therapeutic purpose and there may be improvements,” said Catt. “I think we need to look at the information that’s been gathered to determine where to go from here.”

She said some of the eight or nine kids voluntarily go inside the booth for a break from stimulation.

State laws in Oregon and Washington allow schools to use “seclusion” or “isolation” rooms under specific circumstances, and only when every other way of dealing with a child who is a danger to himself or others has failed.

Bate said her 10-year-old son, who is a “general student” at the school, was distraught after he witnessed several students being placed in the booth.

Her son went to the office Monday after he was roughhousing on the playground, Bate said. She said he sat near the booth for at least four hours, and saw three students being sent into the booth.

“[He was] thinking it was scary, it was abusive, are they gonna do this to me?” Bate said.

Bate got photos of the booth the next day and posted them on Facebook. Since posting, Bate said she’s received everything from high praise to harsh criticism, including many messages claiming she had no right to judge unless she had a student with special needs.

“I have a 20-year-old daughter who’s actually been institutionalized, medicated heavily, ADD, ADHD, RAD, OCD, among other things,” Bate said. “I never had to have anybody put her in a box. I didn’t have any problems dealing with the situation, so I do know both sides.”

Bate said she hopes the Longview district stops using the booth.

“If you feel like you have to lock a child up, they shouldn’t be in public school,” said Bate. “I don’t think it gets any clearer than that.”

Mother says school put her son in the room without permission

Candace Dawson, who now lives in Marysville, Wash., has a son who used to go to Mint Valley Elementary three years ago. She said the school put her child in the booth without her permission.

"He said that's the naughty room," Dawson told KATU News Wednesday. "That's what he called it. He said when kids are naughty they get put in there."

She said she had no idea the school had the isolation room until she went online and saw her son's old school was in the news. She asked her son about it. She said he got very uncomfortable and told her not only did he recognize the pictures of it online but his teacher forced him to spend time there.

Dawson said her son does have some behavior problems but said she would never OK the school to send her son to this room.

Dawson said she would file a complaint Wednesday afternoon.

According to the district late in the evening, it does have new information that brings to light something like Dawson's complaint but it would not confirm that Dawson did in fact make a complaint Wednesday afternoon.

KATU's Melanie Wingo, Bob Heye and Emily Sinovic contributed to this story.