James Cagle was worried when his 5-year-old didn’t get off the school bus Wednesday afternoon. The frantic father and his wife rushed to Washington Elementary School and found their son, Tanner, alone in what Cagle calls “a closet.”
Tanner’s teacher had put him in isolation in a small room as punishment — and forgotten about him. The teacher left for the day, leaving Tanner alone and cold in the dark room.
The Idaho father is furious with the kindergarten teacher who forgot about his son.
Cagle reports that the school has been defensive, saying ” ‘ Oh, the door’s unlocked, he could’ve got out.’ ” But Cagle defends his son, saying, “He’s 5 years old, if he was put in that room he’s supposed to stay there. And then the teacher goes home.”
The teacher admitted to placing Tanner in the small room as punishment. The teacher also admits to forgetting about the boy.
Some say that, not only was the isolation punishment too harsh, but forgetting the boy was unforgivable.
“It’s a teacher’s responsibility to account for the whereabouts of her kids. Every. Single. Kid. We trust our children’s teachers to know where they are because they’re in charge, the responsible adults who act as our stand-ins during the school day when we aren’t there to watch them. Forgetting a kid, even for a few minutes, is unacceptable. Forgetting one in a dark room and leaving for the day? That should bring some serious discipline down on this teacher’s shoulders.”
Cagle said that the room in which he found his crying son was “like a jail cell.” Caldwell Superintendent Tim Rosandick argued that the room is “used for tutoring sessions, as well as for pre-approved student management for students with special needs.” He did, however, add that the room is not “intended for disciplinary use by general educators.” Rosandick admits the teacher “should not have done that.”
The teacher allegedly put Tanner in the room after he removed a paper chain link off of a countdown-to-Christmas chain.
The teacher is still in the classroom, and, while district officials have apologized for the incident, Cagle wants to see her punished.
“If someone called the police and said that hey there’s a dad that locked his kid in a small room with no lights and he was in there so long and he was crying and he urinated his pants, I would be going to jail,” Cagle told ABC News. “If not, then at the very least [Child Protective Services] would be here taking my children. How is it any different for a school teacher?”
The Caldwell incident is not an isolated one, and families across the country are suing schools in a fight against physical restraint and isolation as “methods of school discipline.”
One recent case reports the mother of a Kentucky boy with autism, who said that, when she went to her son’s school, she found him stuffed in a canvas duffel bag in the hallway. Unlike Tanner Cagle, many of the students who are physically restrained are disabled.
An Education Department report in March found that schools physically restrained students 39,000 times during the 2009-2010 school year. Only 17 states have specific laws regarding school discipline, and there are currently no federal standards.
Do you think that we need federal laws governing how a school is allowed to discipline children?