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Father claims school leaders locked son in closet nine times

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POWHATAN COUNTY, Va. (WTVR) – One Powhatan father says his seven-year old son with autism was locked away in a storage closet for at least 30 minutes by school administrators, on nine different occasions.

“He would put him in and hold the door shut. We never knew about it. We never knew why, until one night, my son begged us not to go back to school,” Sean Campbell said.

When he approached school administrators he was eventually given a log showing his son Alex was consistently locked away for “continued defiance, being aggressive in class and hitting staff,” Campbell said.

In Virginia, there is no law preventing teachers from secluding students who are considered a threat. We sought comment from Powhatan school leaders about Campbell’s claims, but they had no response.

However, school leaders do confirm they’re looking at writing up a restraint and seclusion policy to deal with misbehaving students and they have invited Campbell to be part of the process.

CBS 6 obtained the restraint and seclusion policy Powhatan school leaders are considering.

It would allow administrators to “physically restrain students” and they would be required to notify parents within 15 business days. But if seclusion is used, the school wouldn’t be required to tell parents at all, unless there is “observed physical injury to the student,” during the seclusion.

Former state superintendent Dr. Bill Bosher said he is against seclusion and restraint policies.

He said schools shouldn’t take such a broad approach to discipline students.

“You don’t want the teacher to first think about what’s the regulation — ‘What am I supposed to do? Not supposed to do?'”

“You want them to first think about how do I best handle this situation so that everybody’s ok in the end,” Bosher said.

Powhatan school leaders said the process is still under review. In the region, Henrico and Chesterfield have similar seclusion and restraint policies in place.


  • cookiemonster

    The school must have options available for dealing with the violent “disabled” children that the federal govt. forces them to “teach”. A violent disruptive child that is not capable of learning in a traditional classroom environment should be placed in an appropriate segregated facility.

    • Doug

      Is this sarcasm? Every child has a right to an education. If the child is disruptive maybe the first thing to consider is “why”. restraining a child should only be a last resort and only by someone trained to do so properly. Mentally and physically tormenting a child by locking them in a closet is not restraint, its abuse.

      • Fenris

        Maybe this was a last resort. What are all the other children supposed to be doing with their class time while every single resource and minute is spent ignoring them to deal with a violent, disruptive child?

    • Jane

      This isn’t about a child making a choice to be violent and disruptive, it’s about a boy with autism. And he needs be treated accordingly. I doubt very seriously putting him in a closet and holding the door shut for 30 minutes at a time did him any good. What if it was your child and he was having a bad day and acting violent or disruptive? Would you like that to be their way of dealing with it? What about the fact that they don’t even notify you that’s what they have done to your child? Every child deserves an education. Sounds to me like the school system needs an education on how to teach autism children.

    • Coaster

      If the child was being violent and disruptive, the first thing that should have been addressed was his IEP. It sounds like all parties were a bit negligent in getting a proper IEP written. At seven years old, there often isn’t a lot IN an IEP, but there definitely can be. Points of consideration; do we know what causes the outbursts? Is there something that can be modified to alleviate the stressor? Is this school able to handle the child without an aide? With one? What behavior modification and OT services does the child receive in school? Outside of school? Are all the therapists and doctors and counselors on the same page as to where the focus should be at this time? The more information you give a school in dealing with a child with a handicap, the better able to help them they will be. On the flip side, it’s up to the teachers or other school personnel to request more information if they don’t have it. How does a parent know if a particular therapy or medication is working or not? When it’s given before school, it will mostly be worn off after school. The teachers are the best ones to say if it helps or not.

      Communication is two way, and both parties missed it.

      I would not have a problem with the school needing to put a violent child in a time out room IF:
      – the room were approved and met some sort of standards for safety – cameras, padding, etc.
      – using the room was a part of the child’s IEP
      – the parents would have to see the room before agreeing to let the child be placed there when needed.
      – The parents should be contacted the same day, each time the child needs to be placed there, and staff should make note of what was going on when the need arose.

  • manalishi

    Oh he** no. The seclusion technique must be reserved For psyc pros. This in not a usable educational tool.

  • Glen Allen

    It sounds to me like Powhatan lacks qualified teachers. Placing a kid in the closet sounds more like something a babysitter might do to maintain control, but Special Ed Teachers should be trained to handle behavior issues, I mean isn’t that at least part of the reason the kids are not in the traditional classrooms?

    It seems to me maybe a regional school with specialized leadership and teachers might be worth looking into, this was localities could share costs and other resources.

  • shirley

    better not ever happen to a child in my family, this is a form of child abuse and or neglect, you don’t know what the child may do in a closet alone or what extra mental harm you are doing to the child, if you can’t handle teacher children with disabilities then get out of teaching…

  • Anonymous.

    Somebody needs to resign immediately to set an example of why this won’t be tolerated. Suspend the kid if it’s warranted but don’t lock them in a closet. This is what happens when you look to the government to raise your children. Common core 101.

  • susanhayward

    I look after adults with learning difficulties and challenging behaviour, we are NOT allowed to restrain or seclude anyone showing challenging behaviours. We use Positive Behaviour Management, which works by diffusing the situation rather than making it worse, We build trust while seclusion and restraint destroys it.

  • Carol

    This boy should already have a special plan developed by the school in conjunction with the parents. The parents must agree to the plan and should be notified the same day if any restraints are made. Putting a child in a closet is not an accepted form of seclusion. Seclusion would mean removing the child from the other children which would be warranted in a situation such as described. Either this article doesn’t tell the whole story or this school in not in compliance with DOE regulations.

  • sandy

    If you hat you boys and lock them up that it abuse.You and your husband shouldn’t have kids then. It’s not about giving these kids medication either. It’s about if these kids have a disability these teachers are suppose to be there to help them not lock them up.

    • jebo

      There is obviously more to this story. As a former teacher who has taught elementary school with a mix of general ed, title one, and special ed students in my classroom at any given time. I once had to remove a whole entire classroom of students from another student going off and tossing desks. I removed them for their safety because the child was out of control. What about the other kids in the class? Was this child a potential threat to them? I would want to see more details to just assume Powhatan County teachers are not qualified or competent. People are so quick to judge without knowing both sides to the story.

  • PowhatanMom

    First, this “restraint” policy is not just for special needs children. It is for all students and staff protection. A fight breaks out in the High School, teachers step in to break it up and hold the students from fighting. What happens? The parents of those students are pissed because teachers put their hands on their children who were acting like animal. So what are teachers and administrators supposed to do?

    As far as the special needs children, not all are disruptive, BUT, I have a child in one of the other Powhatan County schools. I am in the school helping once or twice a week. I can tell you every time I am there, there is a HUGE outburst in the class next to his. Always blood curdling screaming coming from the class next door. Now, that teacher is a wonderful teacher and highly recommended. There is an side with this one child all the time. When there is one of these outbursts, you hear the teacher calling for one of the other students to open the door because the aide has to carry this kicking screaming child out and brought into a quiet room. Now this quiet room is not a full size class room by any means but it is not a closet. There are soft items in there to prevent the child from hurting them self and calm down with the aide. Now anyone being cynical would be able to classify the small room as a closet but it is clearly not.

    While all children are entitled to an education, I think everyone needs to look at what is in the best interest of the child. There is another high spectrum child in the same class as the other, at an event when that child came forward, he was set off and disturbed by the group of 10 kids he was in. He needed to back away to a quiet spot. How is being in a class of 24 helpful for that child? Each child is different but I think the extreme cases need to be look at more closely. While I welcome the opportunity for my son to learn compassion for others who are different then him, in these extreme cases that I have witnessed, the outbursts would hinder his learning. It is very distracting just being in the room next door, let alone in the classroom.

  • Carole Clarke

    If this child’s autism is this severe he may not belong in this kind of class. The other children also have needs which are not being met when he is disruptive. School is not a babysitting service for mentally challenged children. If this district has alternative schedules for children with autism or Aspergers Syndrome, then he should go there. If they do not then other accommodations must be made. Sounds like he needs one-on-one insstruction with someone familiar with autism. What a shame for everyone!

      • Doug

        Problem is they didn’t notify the parent of any of this ever happening. being giving a log of all the times your child has been locked in a closet when you go to complain about the one time you know of, is irresponsible. There should have been some form of notification as soon as it happened the first. If not then the school is open to do what they want, when they want and there is nothing to stop them. What would you do if it was your child. The bigger question in all this is WHY. Why did the child flip out in the first place. Why are they not notifying parents when their child is locked. Why is there not enough aids to children. Why, Why, WHY.

  • Fenris

    What are teachers supposed to do with violent children, whether or not they can help themselves? All of you saying, “they’re lucky this wasn’t MY kid,” well, I’ll tell you something. YOU are lucky that your violent, hitting child did not lay a finger on MY kid or you would be in seriously legal trouble.

  • Scott

    As the father of one with Aspergers Syndrome (high functioning autism) in Chesterfield, I can share that many teachers are not trained or equipped to handle a disruptive child on the spectrum. Yes, one on one aides are sometimes needed, but those are frequently declined for budgetary reasons. I’ve heard, “You think your child needs what?”

    Locking a child with autism in a closet, or locking any child in a closet, should be criminal. In extreme measures, if anyone is facing a danger, perhaps. However, disrupting the class shouldn’t result in half an hour or more locked in a dark closet. How would you like that for your child?

    ALL children are disruptive at one point or another. Should they ALL be locked in the closet, or just kids that might have difficulties sharing the experience with their parents?

    As a parent, I’d like to see more resources spent on behavioral modification to fulfill the special needs of these children. A few points on the IEP doesn’t cut it. We can help these children now to become assets to the community, or spend the money later when they might become unemployable. I vote to spend the money now.

  • VS Teacher

    There is more to this story that cannot be explained by the Powhatan Public Schools due to the privacy of the student. As a teacher, I know that small areas are often used as “time out” rooms for the safety of the distressed student and the other students in the class. Small areas may be used that were previously used as closets. However, I have worked in schools where autistic students were very violent.

    I have a wheelchair bound handicapped cousin with cerebral palsy and other multiple handicaps that is no longer in school because of turned over desks, flying shoes, etc. In small school divisions, autistic students are often put in classrooms with students with other handicapping conditions. These violent students are difficult to handle, especially when the majority of elementary special education teachers are female.

    The parents have every right to question the “time out closet” and the lack of notification by the school. However, the media cannot solve the problems that exist in this student’s school.

    Sounds to me like someone is contemplating a lawsuit which we know solves everything in America these days….

    JUST ASK ANY LAWYER! As if money will help this child., very sad!

  • Samantha

    No student or teacher should have to take the chance of being hit by a student, disabled or not. If the child is violent then for everyone’s safety he must be removed. The parents should be required to take him home when he becomes violent. He is not receiving an education when he is acting out anyway. Having a disability does not grant you the right to hurt others and disrupt their educations.

  • VS Teacher

    In my experience, when students with autism or aspergers are violent, their parents are also at a loss about what to do. It is very easy to say what you would or would not do when you are not thinking about the safety of the child, safety of the other students, and the safety of the school staff.


  • Anne

    Oh I guess these parents; like so many others think it is so easy to care for this little boy in a classroom setting that is not equipped to handle him. They seem to not care that when he gets frustrated and he surly does with his condition. That he probably, kicks, screams, and flings himself and things about the room hurting both his class mates and all those around him, never mind disrupting their learning time. That teacher was probably trying his best to find a way to deal with him in a very hard situation. But because of his parents need for him to be in a normal environment, his classmates, and he too must suffer in such a situation. This child should be in a special school that is equipped to handle him and his needs. And if the school system tried or is trying to do that for him, I bet you anything his parents are fighting that both tooth and nail as well. It’s all about them and their need for him to be normal. They love him and that is understandable but that does not make it right. I cannot help but think of that young man in Massachusetts whose mother wanted him to be normal too. She pushed him for years until he fell over the edge. If he had been given the care he really needed how many innocent little children would be with us today. All this happened because of her bad judgment and her very own selfish needs that in no way helped him did it. And Parents he was given to you, not us you need to do a better job caring for him. Do you not have the time or money is that it.

    • rick rice

      sorry anne, you got it backwards. Parents usually want as much individual attention fro their child that they can get. it is the schools that do everything to not give them the services that they are entitled to because it is expensive. Mainstreaming as it is called is state mandated. not parent driven. I know my wife is a specail ed teacher and i hear all about it everyday.

  • Doug

    1 in 68 people are somewhere on the autistic spectrum. That means that chances are your child goes to school with someone that is on the spectrum. If these schools are not properly trained to handle someone on the spectrum then they need to be quickly. The only way for that to be done is to bring situations like this out to the public so that it no longer happens. These children NEED to be with and around other children not locked in a SPECIAL school. Saying that these kids dont belong with other children is no better then saying “Blacks to the back of the bus”. Its the same thing. Most of you need to be educated. In most cases the children who are not on the spectrum end up learning more from these children then you will ever know. they are small things but maybe you have heard of them. Compassion, Honesty, and Thinking outside of the box.

  • annette

    I cannot believe the fear and insults coming from “those” who are uncomfortable with the article. Remember, there is truth behind these claims. Insulting the parents is not called for… This is an opportunity for improvement, not division. I wish the best for all involved.

  • denise sullivan-wade

    Has anyone in Powhatan or other County School Systems considered how TRAUMATIC locking any child (much less a child with Autism or other Intellectual Disability) in a closet is???? HELLO FOLKS…WAKE THE HELL UP!

  • Allison D.

    Just a note, this did NOT occur in a Powhatan County School. The reporter and WTVR should be ashamed at this pathetic attempt at journalism. This incident occurred at a private school that the student is sent to in order to meet his special needs. The funds to send the child there come from PCPS as is required by law, but the parents choose the school to which their child is sent.

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