Plano ISD Changes Calm Room Policy After Incident Uncovered by NBC 5 Investigation

Two employees no longer with district after investigation shows child trapped in room.

Two Plano Independent School District teachers have lost their jobs after an NBC 5 Investigation uncovered an incident involving a calm room inside a Plano ISD elementary school.

The incident raises questions about the district’s use of so-called calm rooms used for disruptive students.

For five months, NBC 5 Investigates has been investigating this issue and asking questions about the Plano incident.

Last fall, NBC 5 Investigates revealed how often the Mansfield Independent School District put disruptive students with special needs in small closet-like rooms after they act out.

NBC 5 Investigates requested records from more than 35 other school districts in North Texas and found at least five, including Plano, using similar rooms.

After the first report, a Plano family contacted NBC 5 saying they believed a teacher mistreated their 8-year-old autistic son.

In 2012, their son came home with bruises and described being forced into a small closet-like space known as a calm room, a place for troubled kids to cool off.

The boy said the teacher trapped him, holding the door shut, which is not allowed by state law.

NBC 5 Investigates pressed the district for answers in December, and that month the district launched an internal investigation.

In a statement, Plano ISD said that investigation resulted in a teacher and a teacher’s aide losing their jobs.

On Wednesday, the district issued a statement saying, "During the summer break, the doors on spaces used as calm rooms will be removed."

NBC 5 Investigates has been asking questions about those doors after Plano ISD allowed NBC 5 to see one of its calm rooms last fall.

NBC questioned the district about why the rooms had doors on them when the state law clearly states students may not be trapped in a room with a door held shut as a punishment.

At the time Plano ISD said teachers never hold the doors shut. But internal district documents and an exclusive video obtained by NBC 5 Investigates show it still happened to the child in the 2012 incident.

The district found he was forced into the calm room, knocked to the ground at one point, and over the course of several hours the door was repeatedly held shut.

For months, Plano ISD has refused to answer questions about those calm rooms on-camera. Last week, NBC 5 Investigates approached Steve Fortenberry, interim superintendent, and asked if the district would continue to keep using the calm rooms, but he refused to answer questions.

In a statement issued Tuesday night the district said, “While Plano ISD may continue using calm rooms as an intervention tool, district administrators will persistently monitor their use.”

As for the incident where the child was trapped in a calm room, the district said, "The awareness that any student in Plano ISD was inappropriately treated by a trusted caregiver is disheartening. It is the district's expectation that all employees regard each student with the utmost respect and that the wellbeing of students is a top priority."

The incident happened in 2012, but it was not investigated until December 2014, more than two years later, around the time NBC 5 Investigates started asking questions.

If you have a similar story to share about the use of these type of calm rooms in your school district we'd like to hear from you.  Please email NBC 5 Investigates Producer Eva Parks.  All emails will be kept confidential.

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