Angry parents demand accountability over school's 'time-out' room

Miramar Central School was investigated by the Ministry of Education after a disabled 11-year-old boy was found locked alone in a cell-like "time out" room. Photo / File
Miramar Central School was investigated by the Ministry of Education after a disabled 11-year-old boy was found locked alone in a cell-like "time out" room. Photo / File

Angry parents say they will pull their children from a Wellington school caught using a "time-out" room for naughty pupils unless there is more accountability.

The Herald revealed on Saturday that at least 10 children at Miramar Central School had been placed in the small, dark room for misbehaving in the past year.

An investigation from the Ministry of Education also found one boy, who was autistic with the mental age of a toddler, was put in the room 13 times in nine days.

He was heard yelling from the room "I'll be good, I'll be good" by his behaviour therapist, who said the event will have a lasting psychological effect.

He still suffers night terrors, his mother told the Herald. She plans to lay a complaint with the Ombudsman, and possibly with police.

Other children - both mainstream and special needs - had been locked in the room for up to 25 minutes, largely without parent knowledge or consent, the investigation said.

The school says it will phase out the use of the room, and the Ministry has appointed specialists to work with teachers on positive behaviour strategies.

A group of parents met with the principal this morning demanding an explanation.

One mother, who didn't want to be named, said the principal refused to release the investigation report, because it was confidential.

"It's not good enough," she said. "There are parents who are absolutely livid over this and the school seems to be quite heavily downplaying the incident."

The woman said she, and others, were planning to take their kids out of the school at the end of the year unless the principal offered a better explanation.

"There needs to be better accountability."

Some parents in the group believed the principal should stand down. Others simply wanted to know if their own children had been involved.

The door to the time out room at Miramar Central School. Photo/File
The door to the time out room at Miramar Central School. Photo/File

This morning, the school posted a statement on its website about the room, saying "some parents were not aware of every instance that the time-out room was used."

In fact, the report found only one parent had given written consent, and most whose children had been in the room were not aware of its existence.

The room was not included in behaviour plans, or mentioned on the school's website.

An incident log said reasons children were put in the room included hitting, making a mess, disobedience, and a lack of focus. It was also used as a threat when children were misbehaving.

It was the second such incident in New Zealand schools in recent months - the first, when a 13-year-old boy attending a special school was put in a time-out room last year - prompted the development of soon-to-be released seclusion and restraint guidelines.

"We have become concerned about this practice, which is why we brought together an advisory group, including principal and teacher representatives, to develop clear guidelines for schools," the Ministry of Education's head of special education David Wales said.

He said the law doesn't specifically prohibit the use of time-out rooms, but the Ministry view was that it was an extremely serious intervention, and schools should work towards phasing it out.

A spokeswoman for the Office of the Children's Commissioner said they were not directly involved with the family in this case, but seclusion in schools was an issue the Commissioner was concerned about.

"We'll be talking more with relevant agencies to work out whether this is a wider systemic issue and if we need to take further steps," she said.

- NZ Herald

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