A mother has withdrawn both her kids from the Bastrop school district after she said she found her son crying in a padded room at Lost Pines Elementary School on Tuesday.
Kayla Chavez said she was taking cupcakes to her two kids on campus Tuesday when she learned that her 5-year-old son Joseph had been taken to a disciplinary classroom. She said she walked to the hallway and heard crying and recognized her son’s voice from behind a closed door. When she opened it, she said she saw her son sitting in a padded room with his lunch and no adult supervision.
“He was crying, his entire body was shaking,” Chavez told the Advertiser Thursday in a phone interview. “He was so scared.”
After the incident, she posted a picture of the room, which has green padded walls and a square taped to the floor, on Facebook. It has since been shared more than 150 times.
School district officials on Thursday confirmed Chavez’s account of events, but due to privacy laws, could not say specifically why the boy had been placed in the “cool down” room, which is allowed under the Texas Education Code, Section 37.0021 as long the door is not locked.
District Superintendent Steve Murray said it is one of a number of methods schools use to handle behavior problems.
“It might be if a student is agitated to the point where they are non-compliant or they are causing a disruption for other people in the classroom, or are harmful to themselves or others,” he said. “We have a wide range of students that have different needs.”
Murray said the photo posted to Facebook had misrepresented the room’s size, which is double in size of what is required under the education code. He said the padded walls are for students’ protection and that the square outline made with tape on the floor was a “focusing mechanism.” He said a student can choose to sit there, but is not required to. Additionally, a staff member must be present either inside the room or directly outside the door at all times.
There are a total of eight “cool down” rooms in the Bastrop school district — one in each elementary school and at Cedar Creek Middle School and Bastrop Intermediate. It is up to the teacher’s discretion to decide whether to send a student to the room, Murray said. While some educators are certified in de-escalation and restraint techniques, teachers do not have to be to send a child to the room.
“They use their professional judgment,” Murray said.
District officials said Chavez’s son was not in the room a long time on Tuesday, and his mother would have been informed of the disciplinary measure had she not first found the boy in the room while visiting campus.
“That is a protocol that’s pretty much with all our discipline actions, they would make contact with parents to say they’ve used some sort of discipline,” Murray said. “They may not do it in advance. You may not have time to deal with the student in the best possible manner.”
After Chavez found her son, she said she was hysterical when she approached the school’s principal and demanded an explanation.
“She said she wouldn’t talk to me until I calmed down,” Chavez said. “I just wanted answers.”
She said she was eventually escorted off school grounds by campus security.
Following the incident, Chavez said she had reached out several times to the superintendent and had been directed to the district’s director of student support services instead. She was told by a teacher that Joseph had been taken to the room because he did not want to participate in a classroom activity and had started crying.
Chavez said her son cries often and that she has talked to school officials about the problem. In that time, she said no one has ever mentioned any disciplinary issues.
“My son does not have a behavior plan. He is five. He cries a lot. Everyone keeps telling (me) he’s fine,” she said.
The district is continuing to look into the situation, Murray said, adding, “I completely understand these parents’ concerns.”
Dozens of people have commented on Chavez’s Facebook post since Tuesday.
“The result has been some very disturbing and threatening comments made against the school, principal and teacher,” Murray said. “That is disturbing for me as a superintendent.”
One woman said: “I find my child in one of these rooms, and there will be an ass whooping going down.” Another person wrote: “I would kill them.” A third said she would drag the teacher outside by her hair.
District officials said they have contacted the police department and district attorney in light of the inflammatory comments on Facebook.
“Our number one priority above academics is the safety and security of our students and staff,” Murray said.
Chavez has reported Tuesday’s incident and has withdrawn both her son and daughter from the Bastrop school district.
“I will not send them back,” she said.
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