A fourth-grade teacher in Riverside County in southern California has been placed on administrative leave after reports of her sending Sage Rollins, a 10-year-old student with Asperger’s Syndrome, to sit in a box in the back of his classroom. According to the Los Angeles Times, Sage’s mother, Kim Rollins, learned about the use of the box, which was about the size of a large television, when her son asked her for scissors “so he could cut a window in the cardboard box his teacher sent him to sit in.” Saying that she is “outraged” and “insulted,” Rollins has filed an administrative legal claim against the district and the teacher, alleging that Sage’s isolation in the box “was involuntary, punitive and caused other fellow students to ridicule” him.
Sage said that Sabrina Beth MacFarlane, his teacher at Ronald Reagan Elementary School in Wildomar, “sent him into the box when she became upset with him”; he said that MacFarlane had previously “forced him to sit in a darkened supply closet.” In contrast, the school’s principal, Nori Chandler, told a Riverside County Sheriff’s Department investigator that Sage “went into a closet on his own, when he wanted ‘quiet time,’ and was never sent by the teacher.” A district counselor provided a “decorated large cardboard box” to help Sage deal with sensory overload and, says the Los Angeles Times, Sage himself “told the deputy he went on his own when he needed a quiet place.”
The investigation by the Sheriff’s Department ”failed to find any evidence of criminal wrongdoing” and said that school personnel did not appear to have “any intent” of mistreating Sage.
Kim Rollins, though, says that her son told her MacFarlane “had sent him to the closet or box for ‘time outs or when she was mad’” and that Sage also “went into the closet or box on his own as well.” He had previously told her of being “scolded” by the teacher who had once thrown “all his colored markers into the trash when he was drawing during class.”
Rollins said that Sage has an instructional aide and his or her role in supporting Sage in the classroom, and in communicating with his mother, needs to be clarified.
Of particular concern is that Rollins, according to the Los Angeles Times story, did not know about the use of the box until it had been used for some time in Sage’s classroom. Many autistic children experience sensory overload and a fourth-grade classroom is a likely place for such to occur. But accommodations such as providing a child with a quiet place to relax need to be discussed with a child’s parents first and, if agreed upon, spelled out in his or her Individualized Education Plan and, after all that, implemented. The Sheriff Department’s investigation may not have found “any evidence of criminal wrongdoing” but (again, based on the Los Angeles Times story) the school district — especially if Rollins was only told about the use of the closet and the box after the fact — has not respected Sage’s educational needs and rights.
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