Elementary school faces lawsuit over padded seclusion room

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By Andrew Michalscheck By Andrew Michalscheck

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- The Deer Valley Unified School District calls it a cool-down room.  But Leslie Noyes calls it a prison cell.

“It’s like five by six, padded walls, no windows.  It is definitely like a cell,” Noyes told 3TV when we sat down in her Glendale home. 

“He was put in a cool down room,” Noyes said of her son. “And he asked to leave to use the restroom.  They said no and he held it as long as he could and ended up wetting himself.”

Leslie and Eric Noyes have filed a lawsuit for an unspecified amount against the district because they say their son – then seven years old – suffered emotional and physical injuries after being restrained and secluded in this room at Desert Sage Elementary School.

“The seclusion room is something we didn’t know about.  We feel they kept it from us until we discovered it by accident,” Noyes said. 

She tells 3TV that she received a call that her son was acting up but she claims no one told her he was placed in seclusion.  Noyes said she went to the school to see what was going on and that’s when she found out about this room. 

Their son was having ongoing behavior issues at Desert Sage – the family says brought on by intense food allergies. 

“He will become fidgety, he can’t stand still,” said Noyes.
Using seclusion rooms is perfectly legal in Arizona.  Each school district determines its own policies.

3TV obtained a copy of Deer Valley’s policy and it says, in part:

If seclusion is necessary, parents and administrators must be notified within the same school day and a written notice that includes the circumstances that preceded the behavior, the behavior, the length of time the student was secluded, the location of the seclusion and the person who observed the student during the seclusion must follow.  When a student has been in seclusion for longer than one hour, parent contact must be initiated immediately. 

The Noyes’ attorney, Hope Kirsch, said that policy was not followed.

“Even though Deer Valley has a restraint and seclusion policy, they were not complying with it and the only thing districts understand is a lawsuit,” Kirsch said.

Because of this legal action, the school district said it cannot comment on the allegations.

“Restraint and seclusion is an overwhelming problem,” Kirsch said. “We are looking to make this district and all districts in Arizona aware that you cannot lock children in rooms.  There has to be something to address their behaviors.”

3TV reached out to numerous sources including several teachers and the Department of Education.  They tell us it is not unusual for schools to have cool-down or time out rooms. 

Arizona is one of six states with no law about seclusion or restraint. 

Congress is now looking at this issue to determine if more oversight is needed.