Parents say son spent 48 hours in Olmsted Falls restraint & seclusion room

Think Stock Photo

Think Stock Photo

OLMSTED FALLS, Ohio — Disturbing pictures have come to light of a seclusion room inside a suburban elementary school, a converted utility closet where a 7-year-old with disabilities spent much of his day.

The child’s parents came forward to talk about it an exclusive interview.

“Seeing it on TV was like seeing it for the first time,” said the mom, who along with her husband, asked that we not reveal their names to protect their child. But we can now tell you what school the boy attended, how it impacted him, and what the school had to say about it.

As news stations reported last month, 14,000 cases of restraint and seclusion were reported in one year in Ohio schools. Restraint and seclusion is legal, but can only be used when there is “imminent danger” to teachers, students or staff.

But the parents of the7-year-old boy said that was not the case at Lenox Elementary in Olmsted Falls. During the 2014-2015 school year, the parents said the child, who weighed 38 pounds, at the time, was physically carried by his arms and legs to the seclusion room after he acted up in class.

“My understanding is there was an incident where they pinned him down,” said the mom. “There were two, maybe three adults, women, holding him down. One woman was straddling him. Another woman was holding his hands and his feet down.”

On an off, the couple said the boy spent a total of 48 hours in the room. As much as six hours a day in a room with concrete walls and a floor mat. The child’s dad said they were led to believe it was what’s called a “sensory room,” where his son would be safe. “It was anything but safe,” said the dad. “I don’t know how you can put a person in a position to put them in a room like that.”

But when we contacted Olmsted Schools for reaction, I got a different story. Superintendent Jim Lloyd said, “I can tell you it was by the book, handled in a proper way. They followed the procedures that were put in place. They followed the Board policy.”

“I don’t think my son felt safe in the school,” said the mom. “Because otherwise, we wouldn’t have gotten to this point.” The parents said their son has been “re-traumatized” by the restraint and seclusion.

MORE: What is your school’s policy or response? Check our list.

Lloyd wouldn’t talk specifics about the case, but sympathized with the couple. “I would agree to disagree with how the parents feel,” he said. “I can’t put myself in their shoes. But what I can tell them is we care about their student. We try to do our best in order to show we care about their kids and how we intervene with them in a proper way.”

Lloyd said teachers and staff undergo extensive training to deal with unruly students. When asked if anyone was retrained or disciplined in this case he said, “It would indicate that something was done wrong or incorrectly, and I disagree with that. There wasn’t anything done incorrectly or wrong according to the protocol.”

The parents said school employees failed to use proper intervention techniques, and criticized school officials for failing to follow up. They also lambasted the Ohio Department of Education who they said passed them “from one person to another” when they asked for the department to intervene.

Lloyd made a point of saying the photo of the seclusion room used in our stories was misleading. He said the gate in the photo was used to house technology equipment, not the boy. He said the room looks less ominous from a different view. But when we asked permission to shoot video of the room, a school spokesperson declined.

The parents said they came forward because they don’t want the same thing to happen to another child. But the superintendent said restraint and seclusion is seldom used. Over the last two school years, only three of the district’s 3,800 students were put in seclusion rooms. Only 11 were restrained.

“Nobody wants to put their hands on an individual,” said Lloyd.

But the couple isn’t comforted by those numbers. They’ve pulled the boy out of the Olmsted Falls School District. “You want to believe you send your children to school with trusted adults,” said the mom. “Adults that are educated, that know right from wrong. We wanted to believe we were sending our child to school. And they were doing the right thing.”