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Milton mother believes first-grader's seclusion violated policies

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Ashley McCallum
Friday, December 1, 2017

MILTON—Nicole Johnson said she didn’t want the spotlight on her son Wednesday when she posted a Facebook status that went viral.

The Milton mother said she wanted to draw attention to disciplinary actions she believes were “heinous” and violations of district policies.

Johnson’s 7-year-old son told his mom Tuesday that Marcia Schwengels, principal at Milton West Elementary, “locked him in a closet,” Johnson said.

School officials later told Johnson’s mother the boy had been put into seclusion because he had been throwing Play-Doh, Johnson said.

Johnson believes that’s a violation of the school district’s seclusion policy, which indicates students should be put into seclusion only if they are causing a risk to the physical safety of themselves or other students. She said the district also didn’t notify her that her son had been put into seclusion, as is required by the policy.

Members of Milton School District administration were made aware of the situation but are “legally prohibited from commenting on student issues,” according to a statement from the school district.

The Milton Police Department found no cause to initiate a criminal investigation, according to the district’s statement.

The statement reads:

“We have conducted an administrative review of the incident. The review found that no violations of board policy took place and that staff actions were supported by board policy and the district’s legal counsel. As a result of the administrative review, we have made some immediate adjustments to current practices that are designed to improve safe learning experiences for all our students.”

Johnson asked that her son’s name not be published.

The first-grader told her he had taken his friend’s Play-Doh when the friend wasn’t looking. The teacher tried to take the Play-Doh away from him, but he crossed his arms over his chest and refused to give it to her.

The teacher called Schwengels to intervene, and Schwengels grabbed the first-grader by his arm and pulled him down the hallway, Johnson said her son told her.

“He kept saying, ‘She was going so fast I couldn’t keep up, but she was holding onto my arm so I couldn’t let go.’ He said that multiple times the past day,” Johnson said.

The boy said Schwengels put him in a closet and another teacher restricted him from opening the door. Johnson said her son did not know who the other teacher was.

The teacher let the first-grader out after he started crying and pounding on the door, he told his mother.

Johnson did not believe her son when he first told her the story, she said. The next day, her son told another trusted adult the same story. The person called Johnson about what the 7-year-old had said, which made Johnson believe her son was telling the truth.

On Wednesday while Johnson was in her nursing class, Johnson’s mother talked to Schwengels, she said. Schwengels admitted to Johnson’s mother that she had put the boy into a room because he was “throwing Play-Doh,” Johnson said.

Johnson then left class to join her mother at the school, she said. She was shown the room where her son had been confined. She described it as being empty with cinder block walls, a tiled floor and pipes running along the walls. The room has a second door without a handle and a moveable shelving unit, which was locked.

Johnson believes the room had previously been used as a storage closet.

Johnson said Thursday she had not been in contact with Schwengels but met with Superintendent Tim Schigur and Director of Student Services Susan Probst.

Johnson believes district officials violated the “use of seclusion and physical restraint with students” policy.

The policy reads:

“Seclusion is defined in the law as the involuntary confinement of a student, apart from other students, in a room or area from which the student is physically prevented from leaving.”

Milton West has a designated room for children who act out, Schigur said in an email to The Gazette. The room is considered a seclusion room, also called a “Time Out room.”

The room was completed over Thanksgiving break, Schigur said. Similar rooms exist in other school buildings.

According to the policy, the principal or principal’s designee must notify a parent or guardian of a student put into seclusion “as soon as practicable but no later than one business day after the incident.”

Johnson did not receive communication from anyone at the school until she reached out the next day, she said.

A building administrator typically notifies a parent of disciplinary action by phone, Schigur said. Follow-up letters may also be sent home.

The policy states seclusion should be used “only when a student’s behavior presents a clear, present and imminent risk to the physical safety of the student or others.”

No school district employee has told Johnson her son presented any physical risk, she said. Johnson has not been told the principal’s side of the story.

Principals are to give parents a written report within three business days of an incident, according to district policy.

Johnson had not received a written report as of Thursday afternoon, two days after the incident, she said.

Schigur and Probst decided Johnson’s son should be moved to another district elementary school, and Johnson agreed, she said.

The first-grader started at his new school Thursday, Johnson said. She said she is excited for her son to get a “fresh start.”



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