Area school with 'time-out spaces' discusses meaning behind rooms

WEST FARGO, N.D. (Valley News Live)- An area mom says her child was put in a padded room at his school for misbehaving. She says it happened at a school in the northern valley. She called our Whistleblower Hotline, but wouldn't go on camera with us. The school couldn't go into specifics about the case. So that’s why we spoke with a school in the F-M area that also has these rooms.

Looking at an elementary school, you might not know of this room. It's a room where students are sent for a time-out. Some parents are saying, it's not right. But the people we spoke with say it's only used in severe situations.

"Only in the case of imminent danger, the student would still have access to a staff member either in the room with them or they would be in sight," says Assistant Superintendent for Elementary in West Fargo Public Schools, Beth Slette.

Slette tells us, since the start of using these rooms a couple years ago, they have evolved with the children. The rooms vary in size and typically have padded walls. Slette says, many of them don't have doors and none of them have locks.

She tells us, rather than referring to them as ‘sensory’ or ‘seclusion’ rooms like other schools do, they stick with calling them a ‘time-out space.’

"Sometimes we just need to take a break. we like to be able to provide our students with safe spaces for them to be safe and to help regulate themselves so they can get back into the classroom and back to learning," says Slette.

So we did some research on these rooms. We found, they are completely legal in the state of North Dakota and the Department of Public Instruction is backing it up.

"Now a sensory room is not typically considered seclusion, but sometimes it's looked at that way because it's time away from other students. But typically sensory rooms are there for students who maybe have a high need for some type of simulation," says Gerry Teevens, Director of Special Education for the Department of Public Instruction.

North Dakota is one of just five states with no law protecting students against the use of restraint and seclusion. But the West Fargo Public Schools policy book says, this is prohibited in their schools. Officials with the school say, even when a student is sent to the time-out space, a teacher is always present.

The room we showed you is an older version of what the school has today. Now West Fargo Public Schools is not the only district that has these rooms. We're told parents and educators work on creating a behavior and safety plan, so it's not a surprise for the student to be sent to one of these spaces. The Department of Public Instruction has a set of guidelines but implementation happens at a local level, leaving it up to the school.