Seclusion in Schools: Mother says her son was forgotten

WEST FARGO, N.D. (Valley News Live) - "She opened the door to this small room that has just enough room to sit. And my child was hot and sweaty, and then I was informed that he had been in there since noon that day. And this was after school - almost four o'clock," says Falyn Thom, a West Fargo mom.

Shock, disbelief, anger, and fear. That's what Thom felt when she found out her son Justin, a student with special needs, had been alone and forgotten for hours inside Sheyenne High School.

"They told me to wait here for the principal and she never came," Justin Thom says.

"And in my child's case, he stood there. He stayed in there because he was doing what he was told to do and it was very scary for him," Thom adds.

What she found out next was just as alarming.

"As far as school policies, they have the right to do this," Thom says.

"North Dakota is a state that doesn't have a lot of rules on seclusion and restraint," says Brenda Ruehl, a disabilities advocate with the Protection & Advocacy Project. "It's really left up to the local districts."

According to West Fargo's student restraint policy, children can only be secluded if there is "imminent danger of physical injury." But student advocates say without oversight, those rules aren't always followed. In this case, Thom says she was told her son was put in seclusion because he was being disruptive and drew on his desk - leading her to say - it could happen to anyone's kid.

"Often times, what we find is they're being taken to seclusion because they're not being compliant," Ruehl says.

Districts also aren't required to track students in seclusion, which Ruehl says allows kids to be forgotten and can lead to tragic results.

"Every year across our country, children die because they've been left in seclusion and school ended," says Ruehl.

Now, Thom hopes to spread the word about her son's experience so it won't happen to anyone else. "To get this to stop, we're going to have to stand up and speak and get these things changed so that we know that our children are at school and they are getting an education and they're safe and structured and protected," Thom says.

We reached to West Fargo Public Schools about Justin's case. The district says they've conducted an investigation into the incident, but couldn't comment any further. Thom says the principal called her and said the situation "probably shouldn't have happened."

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