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Time out

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By John Foster

Meet Matthew Montgomery. Like any 8-year-old he likes to jump, play and explore. Sometimes he’s giggly and affectionate, and yes, sometimes he gets angry. When he doesn’t want to do something, he usually flops his body on the floor in refusal. But other times, he gets aggressive — pinching or slapping.

Jeanie Montgomery admits her motherly bias, but said, “He really is a sweet kid, very lovable.”

He loves books and computers but hates when the computer freezes. He can say “Cookies, please,” when he wants cookies. He can say, “Get you, please” when he wants to be tickled. He can say, “Goodbye, please” when a visitor is leaving.

What this autistic child can’t say is how he is treated in his classroom at Crestwood Elementary, leaving his mother to speculate and ultimately keep her child from returning to school out of concern over his treatment.

Montgomery has not allowed her son to return to the school since March 28, although her other son still attends Crestwood.

On that day, he came home from school with red spots covering his face and abrasions along his shoulders. The diagnosis for the spots was petechiae, Montgomery said. Petechiae can be caused from a vigorous bout of crying according to Dr. Alan Rockoff on medhelp.org.

A daily note from school said he had been crying.

“That was the last straw,” she said. She had already filed a complaint with the Kentucky Department of Education regarding his treatment.

While wants him to receive an education and have social interaction, “I cannot send him to school because he’s not safe there,” she said.

She reported suspected abuse to Child Protective Services, as she did when he came home with an abrasion on his back Feb. 5.

The note home said Matthew attacked a teacher and assistant continuously as they tried to get him on the bus. CPS closed the case without findings of abuse, saying Matthew must have bumped into something.

On March 20, Matthew arrived home with two marks on his right arm. She said she had recently cut his fingernails, so the marks couldn’t be self-inflicted.

The note for the day described a day of being off-task. He tried to bolt from the room and pushed a chair into a staff member’s leg. As they were encouraging him to count for calming, they noticed two scratches, applied ice and tried to apply a Band-aid, which Matthew refused.

Montgomery reported that incident to CPS as well. She said she has not heard a conclusion from the two more recent complaints.

Montgomery’s concerns about her son’s safety date back to the beginning of the school year, according the complaint she filed with the Kentucky Department of Education March 10 — 10 days before her son came home with petechiae. The complaint centers around Montgomery’s belief that her son has been placed in secluded room too often and for the wrong reasons, including such acts as laying on the floor and refusing to do work.

That complaint states that between Oct. 14 and Dec. 10, Matthew Montgomery sat in a time-out room adjacent to his special needs classroom 78 times.

Montgomery obtained records from the school detailing reasons for her son’s placement in the time-out room, including kicking, punching and pinching teachers and other students to laying on the floor and refusing to do work.

A letter of response to Montgomery’s complaint from Oldham County Board of Education attorney Anne Coorssen - obtained through Montgomery - states use of time out for Matthew Montgomery has been addressed and since a meeting Jan. 23, school employees are abiding by strict parameters for time out as agreed by Montgomery and staff members.

According to records, between Jan. 14 and Feb. 27, Matthew sat in time out nine times, all for purposeful, persistent aggression toward students or staff. The amount of time varied from two to eight minutes except for one day when Montgomery undressed himself while in the time-out room, refused to allow staff to put his clothing back on and refused to come out of the time-out room, according to Coorssen’s letter. The total amount of time he was in the time-out room on that incident was 24 minutes, according to documentation.

Montgomery said that is a violation of the agreed-upon parameters of eight minutes.

Jeanie Montgomery calls the room a “closet,” but school board director of communications Rebecca DeSensi said it is a standard time-out room, like ones at other schools in the district with special education programs. Crestwood Elementary School Principal Lori Wright referred all questions to DeSensi.

“It’s not a closet, definitely,” DeSensi said.

Since Montgomery’s complaint, officials reminded staff district-wide of the guidelines for using time out. There are no state or federal regulations for the use of time out, but the Kentucky Department of Education provides guidelines to all school districts regarding the use of time out, KDE Director of Communications Lisa Gross said.

Those guidelines allow time out in a secluded room, but only as part of a continuum of other interventions and strategies to change undesired behavior. According to state guidelines, students may be placed in a secluded time-out room for no more than 15 minutes. Oldham County Schools’ policy is no more than one minute per year of age. The guidelines state students should not be locked in and should be visible at all times.

The guidelines were issued in 2000 out of concern for the improper use of time out, according to the document.

DeSensi said Oldham County Schools’ employees follow those guidelines. DeSensi said time-out rooms are present at schools with special education programs to be used as a last resort after other measures such as soothing speech, helping to calm down or time out in a corner of the class have failed. She said it could be an effective measure to protect a child, staff or other children if the student becomes aggressive.

She said parents always have input regarding what behaviors warrant time out.

“We never unilaterally put a child in time out,” she said.

DeSensi said it would be easier to defend the school’s position if she could discuss Matthew Montgomery’s individual case, but the Family Education Rights and Privacy Acts prohibit school employees from discussing an individual student without signed permission from the parent.

Montgomery declined to sign a permission form provided by Oldham County Schools allowing school officials to discuss her son’s education with The Oldham Era.

DeSensi said there are 12.3 special education staff members at Crestwood Elementary. In addition, two consultants specializing in autism conduct regular trainings with teachers. The time-out room at Crestwood Elementary was constructed for the purpose of being a time out area, she said. It is 32 square feet — state guidelines suggest 36 square feet.

Upon inspection last week, the room had tile floors and was bare except for a light fixture and sprinkler with an unobstructed window where a teacher or aide could see in the room.

On the outside of the door was posted the 10 steps toward time out.

Montgomery had agreed on her son’s individual education plan that time out was an acceptable method of punishment, but did not realize that meant he would be in time out behind a closed, and in her estimation, locked door.

Montgomery said she first became aware of an “extra room” from a note home Oct. 11. She first learned how the time-out room was being used Nov. 12 when she hired board certified behavioral analyst Chris George to observe her son’s school environment. George and his partner at Applied Behavioral Advancements, Meghan Launius, have a history working with Matthew Montgomery.

Montgomery said she received a note daily and occasional phone calls regarding her son’s behavior, but never what strategies were being employed to reinforce or discourage behavior.

George visited the school Nov. 12 after a staff member complained to Jeanie Montgomery that her son acted sexually inappropriate by grabbing a staff member’s private areas.

George did not witness such action and said he thinks if it did happen, it was by accident. George said he witnessed Montgomery being placed in the time-out room four times in four hours.

The first was for hitting a teacher, the second was for smacking the teacher a couple times on the forehead, and the third was for flopping on the floor and refusing to do work. The fourth time out visit was after about 30 minutes of being off-task. A teacher prompted Matthew to “regroup,” opened the door to the time-out room and he walked in, George said.

George said at the time a piece of paper-covered part of the window to the room and a slide lock was employed while Matthew was in time out.

The paper is no longer in place, and DeSensi said the lock — which was not part of the original construction — has since been removed after Montgomery notified administration. She said the purpose of the lock was never to lock a child in, but to keep children out.

George, who taught high school special education, said he thinks the classroom has created an adverse environment for Matthew because of the lack of play or sensory activities and the physical nature of reinforcement. He said he thinks that environment has had a direct effect on Matthew’s increasingly violent behavior, and that time out sometimes serves to reward bad behavior when Matthew does not want to work.

Montgomery said her son is getting restless staying at home for the last three weeks but she has lost faith in the staff of Crestwood Elementary and will not send her son back there. She said she does not know what other options she has for her son, and wants to determine that through mediation with the Board of Education.

She requested mediation in her complaint and is waiting for a date, she said.

DeSensi said staff members are working cooperatively with Child Protective Services as well as Montgomery’s family and plans for mediation are in the works.

Coorssen’s letter said the district would agree to have an Admissions and Release Committee meeting with Montgomery to discuss her concerns. Montgomery refused.

Montgomery said the six, one-hour ARC meetings she’s participated in this school year with school staff did not resolve anything and she is not interested in another meeting.

Coorssen’s letter states school officials are willing to consider an immediate transfer to another elementary school if the issues in Montgomery’s complaint can be successfully resolved.

Montgomery said the issue of the time-out room has not been resolved.

“Nothing has been resolved,” she said.

E-mail us about this story at:

jfoster@oldhamera.com