Teacher Bully: 22 School Districts in New York State

Teacher Bully: 22 School Districts in New York State
October 30, 2022

Is it equal for special education students? Disabled students face a lot of challenges. Bullying, timeout, seclusion, and restraint.

What’s in the news?

October 27, 2022.
Not all schools use restraint or seclusion practices on students. Here’s a look at some alternatives.
by Times Union, Albany, New York. Hearst.

What’s the story?

Hearst continues their series about seclusion and restraint. This story is about time out rooms, which is legally defined as a non-locked setting as part of a behavior plan.

In New York State, disabled children are confined in time out rooms, multiple times a day, or a few hours at a time.

It is permitted by state regulation with very little outside oversight, The Times Union of Albany found in a year-long investigation among Hearst Newspapers.

The walls are lined up with padded gym mats with a small window. Other distraught children are placed in bathrooms, electrical closets, and other unsafe spaces.

State and federal education departments do not collect data. In one school district in New York State, students were held over 1,600 during the 2018-19 school year.

A mother told Times Union her story about when her son was in a special education school in fifth and sixth grade with multiple timeout rooms side by side with bare concrete walls. She found her son and other students screaming and crying. She witnessed aides holding time out room doors closed, but they are not supposed to be locked. The experience was traumatizing for her son, who was sent there for refusing an instruction, and described it like a prison camp, causing panic attacks for her son.

Schools often use other names for the time out, and may include sensory objects, but are otherwise empty. Some are voluntary.

The rooms must be unlocked in New York State, which continuous monitoring. A special education attorney says that schools do lock them and leave the children unmonitored.

Any school employee may send students to these rooms, according to the Times Union. Physical restraint is often used to get kids in these rooms, and are used for disobedience. School officials often refuse to tell parents the details of the use of these rooms.

Another special education attorney sued many New York State schools over the use of seclusion and time out rooms. The Keeping All Students Safe Act prohibits seclusion but not timeout, rendering the title deceptive with a major loophole. He toured schools were children were screaming to get out but school officials denied having them.

The state allows the unlocked time out rooms for physical safety issues.

An individualized education program often includes them in a behavior plan.

This story is based on records from 22 school districts including the four largest: New York City, Buffalo, Syracuse and Albany. Boards of Cooperative Educational Services serve multiple districts with intensive special education.

The state requires documentation of incidents for disabled students, but not nondisabled students, according to the spokeswoman for the state education department. Records may be reviewed by request.

11 of 22 districts documented use of timeout rooms, but did not provide the Times Union about individual incidents.

The superintendent of one of the BOCES says his district’s use in consistent with state law.

Eleven of the 22 districts the Times Union examined used time out rooms and kept records documenting their use. Sullivan BOCES used time out rooms, but did not produce records documenting individual incidents of time out rooms’ use in response to a public records request.

Some districts did not respond to records requests or answer questions. I highlight the ones that stand out to me. Read the source through the title link for details I am not covering here.

In May 2021 in Schenectady, one child was sent to “de-escalation” seven times one day for a total of 69 minutes.

North Colonie Schools use the behavior plan guideline of no more than 20 minutes, but 272 instances over 5 years were over 20 minutes, with 19 incidents lasting more than an hour.

Sam Maloney, the actual special education student in this story, was dragged to the time out room nearly daily at Monroe 1 BOCES in western New York. Now 22, he described being in a unpadded room with concrete walls and the smell of urine.

He is autistic and now runs a photography business. He is quoted as feeling “helpless, scared, traumatized.” He told the Times Union “I was screaming and nobody could hear me.” Results of this included PTSD and suicide ideation. He said it is inappropriate and unsafe.

The district responded with being unaware of the situation from more than 10 years ago and all complaints are investigated according to policies, and interventions are used only as a last resort.

Records show that other students were confined involuntarily in multiple districts.

In Capital Region BOCES, students volunteered to take breaks, and some even hid in the room for hours, including an entire school day.

Restraint is part of the time out room experience, usually against their will. Restraint is permitted to protect others from injury, or to stop disruption.

For restraint, schools don’t provide parents written records of each incident, and of course the boilerplate response of being unable to comment on specifics and show their concern while not actually addressing the issue.

The state passed a law in August 22 requiring parental notification of time out and restraint on the day it occurs.

Closets arid bathrooms are used for time out. Because they have to be locked, a staff member blocked the door.

Another student, Eric Feit, recalls being in an instrument closet for hours with no food or water, or bathroom access, in elementary school and middle school, just for appearing to be upset. He is now 23. Commack School District did not comment.

A White Plains attorney talks about a child being dragged into a classroom supply closet in Rockland County. The aides who witnessed it did not report it to police as required by law. One aide did notify police later on. The teacher was arrested in 2017 and convicted of second degree harassment. Acquittals were for unlawful imprisonment and endangering a child’s welfare.

The United States Department of Education, using federal law including the pending bill (as of this posting) called the Keeping All Students Safe Act. Seclusion is involuntary confinement, and excludes time out which is a behavior technique in an approved program that is not locked. I discuss this in season 1 of the I Survived Special Education: Not A Joke podcast.

Ten states explicitly ban seclusion, but some permit time out rooms.

Inaccurate dats comes from confusion over the terminology. Glen Falls City School District reported 119 incidents of seclusion, but they were time out incidents.

Included in the story?

YES. One 22 year old and one 23 year old discuss their experiences. One discussed the trauma and screaming. The other was not given food, water, or bathroom breaks while being confined for hours.


Is this the Least Restrictive Environment?

No. Timeout and seclusion are typically not used outside of special education, although restraint has been used outside of it, according to reports.

What needs to change?

The system must change from punishing to actually helping students.

This is why I started the “I Survived Special Education: Not A Joke” podcast and created “Teacher Bully” to cover these stories.

I was in a timeout room in Muskegon County, Michigan, from 1984-85 to 1987-88, for 3 of those 4 years from second to fifth grade.

The building is no longer used as a school and no longer owned by the district.

In the back of the classroom room there were three wooden walls.

From the inside, there was one brick wall and 3 wooden walls.

Wall 1 was the brick wall of the classroom itself. The hallway was on the other side, with lockers and other classrooms.

Wall 2 was the wooden wall with an opening to access the classroom through a short hallway created by placing that wall a few feet from the classroom’s back brick wall. The space a door would be was placed near the back corner of the classroom.

Wall 3 was opposite the brick wall, facing the back of the classroom which served as an activity area. Special education classes are often half the size of a regular class, creating extra space for other things, including a timeout room.

Wall 4 was opposite the wall with the door opening. The classroom door to the hallway was on the other side of this wall, with the teacher’s desk on the other side of the door near the front of the classroom.

The activity area was a square table, which was made from putting regular tables together, with chairs for the approximate dozen students, the teacher, and the aide.

On a lighter note, one of the activities was using a toaster oven for cooking, which was a highlight for me, but I never used one since, and probably never will. There is a website selling recipes specifically for the special education classroom.

There were probably times where someone was in the timeout room while the rest of the class was cooking with the toaster oven.

This is an example of why:

Timeout must be included in the seclusion definition, in all states and federal law, and criminalized.

One example given was one student, over a decade ago, was punished for appearing upset. APPEARING UPSET. Did they investigate why the student was upset? No. They didn’t help the student solve a problem, but treated the student as a problem.

Punishing negative reactions creates more negative reactions, and destroys trust.

For the schools where the rooms are voluntary, which doesn’t fit the definitions of time out and seclusion which are involuntary: Why would special education students voluntarily go to it? What are they escaping from?