Asperger’s Student Put In Plywood Box

A Wisconsin mother, Mandy Rennhack, says that staff in the Waupun Area School District put her son, who has Asperger’s Syndrome, in a 5 by 7 foot plywood box on March 27, after he did not respond to questions regarding his homework and began to pace. At that point, Rennhack says her son was “given the option” of standing in a corner or taking a “time out.” When he did neither of these, he was placed in the box for 80 minutes (though Rennhack was first told he was placed there for 3 hours).

The school district counters that the box is a “quiet room,” with mats on the walls and a window on the door. Don Childs, superintendent of the Waupun Area School District, claims that Rennhack’s son was “agitated” and was told by the teacher to go to the quiet room. The child was told to come out when a “few minutes” but did not, says Childs.

This incident makes it all too clear why we need federal policies about the use of restraints and seclusion, for students with disabilities and, indeed, for all students. Had Rennhack been informed that her son would be placed in a seclusion area in advance? Had she and her son’s school staff discussed when such a procedure would be used — only in crisis or emergency situations — and how it would be carried out? Also, the incident does not seem to have been sufficiently and accurately documented, based on the different accounts of Rennhack and Childs.

Department of Education Issues Nonbinding Guidelines

In 2010, Representative George Miller (D-California) introduced federal legislation, the Keeping All Students Safe Act, about the use of restraints and seclusion. The legislation has yet to be passed, but, on Tuesday, the Education Department made a significant step in addressing these concerns by issuing its own nonbinding guidance in a 40-page document about the use of restraints and seclusion in schools.

As Nirvi Shah writes on Ed Week’s On Special Education blog, US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan actually asked states to review their policies and guidelines about restraints and seclusion three years ago. A report by the Government Accountability Office found that the inappropriate and incorrect use of these has led not only to injuries among students but even death.

Shah highlights some of the Department of Education’s 15 principles:

•Preventing the need for restraining or isolating students should be a priority.
•Mechanical restraints should never be used to restrict a student’s movement.
•Schools shouldn’t use drugs or medication to control a student’s behavior unless a doctor or other professional has prescribed these.
•Students should not be restrained EXCEPT when they are in imminent danger of hurting themselves or someone else.
•Isolating or restraining students should never be used as a form of punishment or discipline, coercion, retaliation, or as a convenience.
•Restraining or seclusion of a child should not involve restricting his or her breathing or anything else that harms the student.
•Multiple uses of restraint or seclusion of the same student should trigger a review and even a revision of the protocols under which these are being used.
•Teachers and other staff should receive routine training about using alternatives to physical restraint and seclusion, such as positive behavioral interventions and supports.

While there is much to applaud about the Department of Education’s policies, until they are binding, they have no real teeth. The American Association of School Administrators (AASA) opposes federal legislation, saying that individual states should be allowed to create their own policies — though the association does say that the federal government should pay for training.

One point brought up by the AASA that needs to be carefully considered is to keep in mind “injuries to teachers and other school employees that are serious enough to merit workers’ compensation claims and sick leave,” when restraining a child, or in teaching a child. As a parent whose child experienced the inappropriate use of restraints in previous school districts, I am well are of the need for appropriate and extensive training about the use of restraints and seclusion, for supervision and support of staff for proper documentation and for immediate communication about any such incidents to parents.

Mandy Rennhack’s account of her son being placed in the box/quiet room suggests the anguish parents feel when restraints and seclusion are misused, to say nothing about the suffering and trauma a child (and especially a child with disabilities) experiences. The Department of Education must ensure that states and school districts are held accountable when restraints and seclusion are used.

Related Care2 Coverage

Denver Police Handcuff 8-Year-Old Autistic Boy

Basket Holds & Take Downs: Restraints in Public Schools Need More Scrutiny


Restraints & Seclusion: That’s Not Education

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Stanley H.
Stanley H.3 years ago

Autism runs in my family. My father is autistic. He is now in his nineties. He has two nephews who are autistic. There are other family members who have this condition.

Actually being in a quiet place is very therapeutic to an autistic person. Especially when they are over stimulated by out side stimuli such as noise, lights, crowds, a lot of activity going on etc. You see the autistic including Asperger’s process outside stimuli such as sound differently than we do. Those of us who do not have this condition may not understand that.

Actually the boy may have preferred to be there in the box like room because he found it more soothing than listening to the teacher's questions etc.

My father lives in a nursing home now. He has a room to himself and often retreats to it to be alone because the stimulation of daily life can be overwhelming to him. (By the way, my father has an IQ of over 150)

Also when he gets overwhelmed my father likes to wrap himself in blankets

Temple Grandin is a famous animal behaviorist that also is autistic. She is a college professor. She can gives a lot of information about the condition on her website:

Kimberly J.
Kimberly J.3 years ago

I have some questions, but before I ask them, please don't think that I approve of what the teacher did, because I don't. Placing any child, regular or exceptional in another room all alone is totally unacceptable. Placing any child, regular or exceptional in a wooden box alone or with a teacher's assistant is unforgivable.

I would like to know if the student was in an elementary or secondary school. Was he in a regular or exceptional education classroom? Was there a teacher's assistant present who could have sat & talked quietly with the boy/young man until he calmed down?

I asked if the student was in an elementary or secondary school because, at least here where I live in Florida, disruptive students are handled differently in elementary & secondary schools. In the elementary schools, a student who is having a bad day or being disruptive is normally sent to a different part of the classroom where he/she can sit without anyone bothering them, until they feel ready to rejoin their classroom. In the secondary schools, disruptive students are sent out of the classroom to stand in the hallway by the classroom door, or they are given a discipline referral & sent to the Dean's office. In the case of an exceptional education student, he/she should not be sent out of the room without a teacher's assistant. I asked if he was in a regular or exceptional education classroom because exceptional education teachers, especially those who work with autistic students, are

Amber M.
Angela Roquemore3 years ago

Maybe the school admins should be placed in the plywood box!

Deborah D.
Deborah D.3 years ago

I feel sorry for the child and his parents - this is the result of poor training of the educators and support personnel and all the budget cuts that reduced the number of classroom aides.

I know what the risk is for them, my mom had her knee torn up when one of the kids in the class she supported flailed in her direction. Surgery & therapy....but that is no excuse for the mistreatment of this boy OR any other!

Mandy R.
Mandy R.3 years ago

Maureen L...... I am the mother, and I HAVE discussed the sensory issue with them. They DID NOT give him his blanket that was there or his pillow pet etc. Besides that I told them he was NOT to be placed in this box. I don't agree with it, I agree with a proper place for him to go to.... a quiet room can be seen on SUSAN STOKES website, it is a small "cubical" with a sheet over the top and blankets on the inside, like a fort, that is PROPER, not a box. And I would like to add a weight jacket is not something my son likes, he likes blankets placed on him and over his head. Autistic children are all different....
And I would like to thank all my son supporters.
Ty's mom

Zana Zatanique
Jan Alexanian3 years ago

Not all children with aspergers are difficult to handle nor disruptive. Some are very very introverted, but almost all are extremely intelligent. So what if the kid doesn't want to play with others? Not all "normal" kids do either.

There is no excuse for this kind of treatment. If the teachers or the administration can't or won't deal with it properly they need to step down and never ever be in the position to dictate procedures for special needs or "normal" children again. They've demonstrated that they're beyond redemption...and if by some chance they will take a long time before they'll be trusted again by anybody to put their children in their care.

Howard C.
.3 years ago

We trust teachers to develop and encourage our children - what happened at this school is hardly going to achieve anything useful. If those working at this school cannot cope with those in their care then maybe it is about time they looked for different jobs - as prison warders maybe!

Hilary S.
Hilary S.3 years ago

apparently this school shares the common misconception that aspergers (and other mental illnesses i dare say) are a choice.
seems banishment to a wooden box is cheaper than educating teachers and providing adequate supports and aides - well, cheaper in the short term.

sarah jaffe
sarah jaffe3 years ago

I can see the value of using a quiet space to help a child calm down, but more patience and effort should have been used to coax him out when he had calmed down to explain that he wasn't being punished.

JoAnne Klein
JoAnne Klein3 years ago

UTTERLY RIDICULOUS, cruel and inhuman. I cannot imagine how such treatment will help a child. Further, it would seem to me this is grounds for a Child Endangerment suit. Lastly, I believe it is Wisconsin's governor who is partially to blame for this as he has drastically cut among other items school budget perhaps allowing less than competent as well as mentally unfit teachers to be hired at lesser salaries.