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Warwick, NY: District defends 'isolation room' use for ASD students

May 7, 2023, Warwick (NY) Advertiser: Parents address ‘isolation room’ and transportation issues https://www.warwickadvertiser.com/news/local-news/parents-address-isolation-room-and-transportation-issues-NY2515483

Questions surrounding how busing to out-of-district programs works and the use of spaces for students with special needs were presented to school board members during a recent meeting.

During the April 20 Warwick Valley Central School District school board meeting, parents addressed the school board with concerns about the treatment of district children with special needs.

Luis Abramson complimented the performance of the school board in general, singled out Leach for “championing” students with special needs, and Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction Megan McGourty in particular, but said, “My concerns are more on program.”

Abramson said that he’d heard about an “isolation room” being used for Special Education students. “How many times is this room being used in the school year?”

He also inquired how contracted service providers provide support to parents and teachers of kids with IEPs, “Because the services that we contracted are supposed to help with the behavior of students.”

Abramson urged the BOE to follow up on the so-called “isolation room” and get back to the community.

Stephanie Kowalsky also expressed concern about a possible “isolation room” in the schools being used on Special Needs students, and wanted to know where and when this room was being used. She said she also worried about “people coming from out of state” to address the school board, and urged the administration to “talk to the New York State Police” to ensure that only district residents be allowed to speak, as she feared a politicized atmosphere and generalized threat to the public….

Superintendent’s response

During a telephone to his office in late April, Leach addressed the issues raised during public comments.

He was emphatic that there is no “isolation room” in the district.

“That is categorically false...The school [Sanfordville] has a ‘sensory integration room,’” for kids on the Autism Spectrum to visit, in order “to calm down, regroup, refocus...[where they] can release their energy” when they’re over-stimulated, he said.

Leach emphasized that he was “uncomfortable” with the term “isolation room.”

“We now provide [this space for] students at Sanfordville on the Spectrum and with other disabilities to help them refocus and re-set for the day,” he added.

The sensory integration room helps them, Leach said, when they are frustrated or having a rough time. He added that the room is the opposite of what was alleged during the school board meeting.

“It’s not punitive – it’s therapeutic,” he said, adding that it is also beneficial to the classmates of the child with the issue, as it minimizes disruption to the class - and that district parents are aware of it.

“It’s part of best practices,” he said.

Safe space not new

According to Leach, the room was created “years ago,” in response to a Committee on Special Education (CSE) meeting, in order to “maintain the dignity and privacy” of the student who may be having an issue….

The Sanfordville Elementary School Sensory Integration Room. ( Photo provided.)

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