Alone in a Storage Closet: Ethical or Unethical?

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I have a 10 year old son who has Down syndrome. He is significantly developmentally delayed and does not speak. His teacher decided to make a storage closet in his classroom his timeout room.  She put a chair in the closet facing the wall, several times a day she sat him in there and made him stay .

She said she wasn’t sure if it was “ethical” or “unethical” but his behavior was much better for the rest of the day. What action should I take?

1. You need to write a letter
that describes your child and his disability. You need to describe what the teacher told you she did.

Clearly state, in writing, that you did not consent to your child being put in the closet before the teacher took that action. State that you do not consent to this happening again.

The special education law contains provisions about dealing with children’s behavior problems and/or issues. The IEP team needs to conduct a Functional Behavior Assessment (FBA). Using data from the assessment, they need to develop a Behavior Intervention Plan (BIP) to address those behaviors.

These articles will describe how IEP team should conduct these assessments and plans:

An IEP Team’s Introduction to Functional Behavioral Assessment and Behavior Intervention Plans – Describes the IEP team’s responsibility to do a functional behavioral assessment to identify the cause of the child’s behavior and develop positive behavioral interventions and supports to address problem behavior.

Functional Behavioral Assessment & Positive Interventions: What Parents Need to Know by Dixie Jordan. Is the child a problem? Does the child have a problem? Is suspension from school “good medicine for bad behavior?” Article describes strategies parents and teachers can use to assess problem behavior and teach appropriate behavior skills to children.

Functional Behavioral Assessments: What? Why? When? Where? Who? Dr. Stephen Starin describes problem behaviors, functional behavior assessments, environmental manipulation, and qualifications and training of evaluators.

After you read the articles, you will have a good handle on what needs to be done.

You’ll find more about behavior and discipline here:

2. You need to request an IEP team meeting (in writing).

Describe your concerns. Advise the team that the team needs to develop appropriate strategies to deal with your child’s behavior issues, issues that may be fueled by frustration at his difficulties learning.

The IEP team is required to consider your concerns about your child’s special education program, progress, etc.

3.  You need to keep notes. Your notes should tell the story beginning with the teacher telling you that she put him in the closet, your emotional response, what you did, what you requested, what the school agreed to do, etc. You need to keep a cool head and try not to overtly blame, and be persistent about resolving the problems.

This link will take you to a page about how to document problems, how to write letters to the school, and includes several sample letters:

  1. I once recieved an in school suspension in a storage closet in private school and it still had been traumatizing to me, to this day, I’m in my 30s. I stumbled on this bc I googled if this is something people do or if my principal was just an abusive person. Hoping this helps anyone for aftermath of the child

  2. This happened to my son, he was coming home with bruises on his head. He has adhd. The teacher came out because I didnt know they were doing this. They’d say, write your name or go to the closet. The principal told me she was horrified my 5 year old swore when he said “let me out or I’m going to shit my pants”. They were changing him and not reporting anything to me. They couldn’t even tell me how long or how often my kid was being locked up. The speech therapist said she threatened to put him in tree here because he was looking at a piece of salt on the ground and wouldn’t get up when she asked him to. I pulled him out of school the whole thing still makes me sick. I’m still thinking about suing.

  3. This happened to my son. My son has aspergers and has trouble relating to other kids. He is in high school and never had behavior issues before. He hit another student who happens to be gay. School decided to place in a closet until I came to get him. When I got there I was told everything that happened and that my son was suspended for a week. My son has never mentioned any bullying from victim. By Thursday of that week the school Private decided to expel him. I asked if there was a way he could come back but the school said he would be in a storage closet everyday because he did not deserve to be around other students. They are calling this a hate crime and the other parents are looking to sue and press charges against my son.

    • Lisa, The school cannot just place your child in a storage closet for the rest of his time there. That is denying him FAPE. You mention that the other child is gay. Why do you think your son would go after this child? Did the child bully him? Make a unwanted advance at him? Also the school has to determine weather or not this happened due to his disabilities and according to your other post they did. There is not much you can do regarding school but you do need to teach him to respect other kids choices. As far as the charges the parents can do that and its up to the police.

    • I agree with Marcus that you may need to get an FBA and BIP. Also it sound as if he is higher functioning so you should really be teaching him that there are people who are homosexual and he has to learn to interact with them. I believe the private school can expel him if they deem it fit and it seems they have. Also did you have a Determination Meeting. That will help you to find out if his disability caused him to act out. If the disability did not cause this than you really don’t have much of a choice. As far as the charges and lawsuit if the disability did not cause him to hit the other parents can press charges against your son. Not sure of what the outcome will be and I believe they can sue you for damages.

  4. This teacher is out of line in my book. What did he do that was so outrageous that he needed to be placed in a closet? Per the answer you need to write a letter and it needs to be good. Document every single concern that you have and request a meeting immediately to address all of your concerns. At the meeting if it is determined maybe your son needs a functional behavioral assessment (FBA) then one should be done and then a plan needs to be developed to address certain behaviors that you want curbed. I would also even write to the principle and request for him to be placed into a different classroom if possible.

  5. How do you make sure the child is not placed in the closet again? The child obviously can’t report it or he would have told his mother before the teacher did. Short of a video camera in the room, this child is totally vulnerable.

    Children need to have equal or more protections than an adult. Compare this to an adult in a work situation. The adult has much more recourse – even to deciding not to return to their place of work if they feel harassed. The parent should be able to immediately remove the child to another classroom or school if they feel the need is there.

  6. After being assaulted by a staff member, my child was moved from a mainstream class to a former storage closet as his daily classroom. The Director of Special Education explained that my son was not able to be in a regular class room. He made no progress while being locked in the closet.

    Once we placed him in a private school while dual enrolled in the public school, he graduated on time and in the top 10 (Not just 10 percent) of over 425 high school seniors.

    The public school is too willing to place kids in their school to prison pipeline rather than educate them.

  7. Familiarize yourself with your state’s regulations on seclusion and restraint. After the Seclusion and Restraint report by the Government Accountability Office, Congress took a great deal of interest in the use of seclusion or restraint in schools. You should be able to find information about your state’s policies here:

    I know what that teacher did would certainly be in huge violation of my state’s requirements for secluded time-outs, both in practice and in written notice requirements. You may want to consider forwarding your written notices as a state complaint as well if your child’s school did not appear to follow your state’s seclusion regulations.

  8. I believe teachers need to be educated in Postive Behavior Modifications, because they really work. It does not do any good to “punish” a child with time outs, remove them from a table to sit alone, reprimand them in front of their classmates, etc. How do they expect to modify bad behavior with punishment (especially if the child is unable to regulate their behavior-they are punishing the child for something they have no control over).

    They need to get a Behavior Specialist involved who can teach this child techniques so he can learn to regulate his behavior. And most children respond to positive behavior modifications, like stickers or Road Runner Dollars, better than being punished!

  9. I can certainly understand that a time-out can be effective behavior modification, but it sounds like this teacher put herself at risk because he is not in a place he can be sufficiently monitored.

  10. In addition to the suggestions above, you may want to consider if your son has or can develop a communication tool. If he cannot express his needs, he is more lilkely to be seen as displaying “problem” behavior. A speech/language pathologist should be able to help. He may also need an assistive technology evaluation.

    Behavior is communication. The team needs to understand what the message is. I doubt that it is he wants to be put into a closet.

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