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Farmington, MI: $30K for school seclusion room; ASD has 'increased exponentually'

Apr 12, 2021, Farmington (MI) Voice: Farmington’s STEAM seclusion room sparks protest https://farmingtonvoice.com/farmington-steam-academy-seclusion-room-sparks-protest/

Amanda Thielen’s son was a first grader at Kenbrook Elementary School when he first experienced a seclusion room. Nicholas, now a 5th grader, has a range of developmental issues. Being isolated in a room with an adult holding the door closed, on multiple occasions, has left him with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), his mother said. After a transfer to Forest Elementary School, Nicholas is thriving. Amanda credits principal Steve Vercellino’s approach and more school staff trained to educate students with emotional impairments. Nicholas has had seclusion room experiences at Forest. While sitting in his classroom, he can sometimes hear students banging on its door. His mother and other district parents believe there’s a better way. Student safety, dignity A decision in February to spend $30,000 on a seclusion room at the Farmington STEAM Academy sparked passionate public comments and a change.org petition with more than 1,500 signatures. Speaking during the February board meeting, Vercellino said he calls the seclusion room a “safe room”. He said he will often sit with students until they’ve calmed down. The room is padded, with a window and mirror that allow staff to watch the student at all times. The door may remain open; it locks only from the outside. “The big part is, we do a lot of things to try to prevent our kids from having to be restrained or secluded,” Vercellino said. “We give them visuals and teach them how to self-regulate.” Acting Superintendent Bobbie Hayes Goodrum is also former principal at Visions Unlimited, the district’s program for young adults with developmental disabilities. She said all special education staff are trained in “nonviolent crisis intervention techniques”. “We only use seclusion or restraint as a last resort,” she said. “Many of our students have very complicated needs, and some of those needs include serious mental health issues.” Special Education Director Jackie McDougal said a seclusion room can also help preserve a student’s dignity, as losing control in the classroom can be embarrassing. Some students may even sense when they’re having an issue and ask to be moved into the room to deal with it, she said…. Without the room District staff during the February board meeting said the STEAM seclusion room would serve six students with disabilities. Without it, McDougal said, the district may have to transfer students to schools in neighboring districts that have those rooms, with costs as great as $100,000 per child. The number of students with autism has “increased exponentially” she said, from one or two classrooms to seven or eight across the district. Without the seclusion room, McDougal said, the district risks disproportionately suspending those students. … Trust issues The problem is more than just a handful of parents, Thielen said. She pointed out that the parent of a child with special needs recently sued the district in federal court over an incident at Kenbrook. According to a hometownlife.com story, a special education teacher scratched the boy while grabbing his arm. In addition to the physical injury, an attorney for the family said he suffers from aggression issues and post-traumatic stress disorder. “I have had parent after parent contact me who have similar stories,” Thielen said. “Parents are made to feel like their child is the only one, when in fact, this is a dangerous pattern in our district. We have real problems with the ethics of our special education department. I don’t trust them to have this room.”…