Ken Kalthoff, NBC 5 News
A University of Texas at Arlington education expert says Mansfield ISD crossed the line when they put Bridget Villegas' special needs son in an isolation room several times to deal with his behavioral issues.
The report of a special needs Mansfield school student repeatedly detained in a closet-like room for discipline has sparked strong reaction.
Edwin Villegas’ parents have withdrawn him from Annette Perry Elementary School after they learned the 7-year-old was held 21 times this school year in what the Mansfield Independent School District calls a “blue" room or “calm" room.
Bridget Villegas, Edwin's mother, said she has still not received documentation required by state law from the school about the discipline for her special education student who is autistic and bipolar.
She said she only saw the "calm" room for the first time Friday.
“I would have expected a Zen kind of calm down type of room or what have you and what we saw was a concrete looking jail room. Upon further inspection of the room, they took me to the back corner, which looks like it used to be a utility closet. And they took me back there and they said that’s where they put Edwin if he doesn’t calm down in the blue room. In the beginning they hold the door shut so he can’t get out, but that it was OK because they can see him in the little glass window at the top of the door,” Bridget Villegas said.
Dr. Lewis Wasserman, an education professor at the University of Texas at Arlington, said "time out" is an acceptable part of student behavior management, but detaining a student behind a blocked door is not permissible.
“A peep hole is not an exception contained in Texas state law,” Wasserman said. “And I would also be concerned that the trauma to the child could result in exacerbation of his education problems.”
His mother said Edwin has regressed this year after attending special education classes last year in a different district without problems.
“If our goal is to educate all children including children with disabilities, then this is not the way to go about doing it,” Wasserman said.
But some parents of other Mansfield special needs students disagree with Villegas’ complaints.
“I think it’s a bad rap for the school,” said Isabel Gutierrez de Armas.
She said her special needs daughter has also been confined in a Mansfield “calm room,” but Gutierrez received all required documentation.
“Nothing changes without you knowing about it, without your consent about it, without your understanding what the situation is and what your child’s consequences and reward will be,” she said.
District spokesman Richie Escovedo said retraining has been ordered for special education staff at Perry Elementary School while officials investigate accusations about the school.
He said it is unclear how long the investigation will take and declined to comment on Villegas’ specific complaints.