Parents angry over school district's use of 'isolation booth'

LONGVIEW, Wash. -- It's been called everything from "the box" to a prison cell for kids, but an isolation room in the Longview School District prompted an investigation into possible mistreatment and even potential violations of state law.

Supporters in the district and the state say the seclusion rooms can be helpful tools to help children deeply affected in the autism spectrum and that they can help kids calm down and not hurt themselves or others.

Parent Candace Dawson disagrees.

"This is a little prison cell they had at Mint Valley," she said.

Dawson is livid that Mint Valley Elementary School in Longview uses the isolation room for special education students.

"Looks like it's about a four by four cell with ventilation holes in the ceiling," she said.

State law allows Longview and other districts to have these padded rooms when students have outbursts. The state superintendent's office says kids are only put inside if parents sign wavers beforehand and have Individual Education Plans for the student. Dawson says her son didn't have an IEP, but he was put in there anyway.

"He wasn't supposed to ever be near this room. They didn't have authorization from me. They didn't have my permission," she said.

Dawson alleges her son was put in the room three years ago at Mint Valley against district and state policy. She says her son told her he was put into the room when he was in the fourth grade after misbehaving with food. He's now in seventh grade at a different school.

"He said it was 'the naughty room.' And we said, what do you mean 'the naughty room'? Well, it's the room if you misbehave you're sent to," Dawson said.

District spokesperson Sandy Catt defended the practice, but admitted the district launched an investigation after receiving allegations from another parent Wednesday.

"It is not for discipline for regular education students," Catt said.

The district promised consequences for teachers if the allegations are true.

"I understand clearly that this could be of great concern to families," Catt said.

Dawson says therapy for kids in need is one thing. To her this is something else entirely.

"Putting them in a box is treating them like an animal," she said.