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MONROE TOWNSHIP, N.J. (CBS) — A parent’s viral Facebook post about the conditions of a “Calm Down Space” used at Whitehall Elementary School has caused officials to reconsider the policy.
“This is a disgrace,” Scott Reiss, a father of a boy with special needs who attends Whitehall Elementary School, wrote on Facebook.
In the post, which has been shared over 400 times, Reiss details the “unacceptable” space that was being used to isolate special needs students. The photos show gym pads in poor shape being used as walls for the “Calm Down Space.”
Reiss was made aware of the existence of the room when his 8-year-old son told them he was placed “in jail” during the school day and was upset by the experience.
School officials explain that Reiss’ photos don’t accurately depict the space used by students and maintain that the actual spaces are well-maintained and offer students a safe zone.
“This space is utilized when students with Behavior Disabilities are experiencing high-level emotional breakdowns that involve lashing out and becoming violent toward staff and other students in possible ways that may injure others and themselves,” says Dr. Richard Perry, the superintendent of Whitehall Elementary School.
The “Calm Down Space” has been in practice for over 10 years, according to Dr. Perry.
“Parents are aware that this space exists via Back to School Nights and tours of the school and it is written into IEP’s with parent consent,” Dr. Perry adds. He notes that parents are always notified when it is used as per the school’s policy.
But Reiss asserts that this isn’t true and claims the spaces don’t abide by state law.
“Bottom line is the room doesn’t follow state law,” Reiss writes on Nov. 15 in a follow-up post on Facebook. “I took a picture of the inside of the seclusion room with my phone…not some magic camera that makes things look different from what they actually are.”
For Reiss, however, the issue remains that while they think the seclusion room can be helpful for students that have special needs, it is imperative that the rooms abide by state guidelines.
“There needs to be something more appropriate for the students,” Reiss told CBS Philly.
As a result of the backlash, Whitehall Elementary School is ending their use of their space.
Dr. Perry explains that the school is now exploring other methods to offer support to special needs when they’re experiencing trouble.