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‘Time-Out’ rooms for students' social, emotional & behavioral needs

“It’s not punitive. It's therapeutic"
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Posted at 6:08 PM, Apr 05, 2022
and last updated 2022-04-05 18:10:51-04

WEST SENECA, NY (WKBW) — In wake of an outcry over a “de-escalation” room used at a school in the Silver Creek School District, 7 News went in-depth to find out if other schools utilize this type of space.

The New York State Education Department (NYSED) refers to them as “Time-out rooms”.

This is defined as an area for a student to safely de-escalate.

Guidelines for the rooms are as follows:

  • Rooms should be used alongside a behavioral intervention plan
  • Teachers must be able to see and hear the student while they are in the room
  • Room must also have wall & floor coverings to stop them from getting hurt
  • State doesn't require schools to notify parents about their child being put in a "time-out room” unless a student is there on an emergency basis

In the West Seneca School District at Winchester Potters Elementary, the school is preparing to set up a future calming style room to help students with social, emotional, and behavioral needs.

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Winchester Potters Elementary Principal Robyn Brady.

“It’s just really a spot for a student to go to regulate first,” explained, Robyn Brady, principal.

In an occupational therapy room at Winchester Potters Elementary, it is also used to help children calm down if they are dealing with emotional issues.

Principal Brady tells me unfortunately students come to school with baggage, some with trauma.

The room is used to help them.

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Wendy Hvisdak, occupational therapist.

“They're not robots. They’re humans. They have emotions and feelings and they're trying to process them and a lot of times they don't understand or they're trying to do what's expected of them in school,” explained Wendy Hvisdak, occupational therapist.

Some schools do have what is known as de-escalation or time-out rooms.

But we learned de-escalation or time-out rooms are not intended for the punishment of students.

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Winchester Potters Elementary.

“I think that sometimes the phrase de-escalation room can sound punitive,” Hvisdak remarked. “What makes maybe it from a punitive to an instructive space — they are given the opportunity to self-regulate — to figure out what that means and what that looks like for them. It's different for everybody.”

“It’s meant to really calm them down, so it's nothing that would be punitive. It's all to make sure the student can regulate and move on with their day,” Brady replied.

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Occupational therapy room at Winchester Potters Elementary.

“It’s not punitive. It's therapeutic,” remarked Michael Cornell, superintendent, Hamburg Central School District.

To help better understand so-called de-escalation or time-out rooms in a school building, 7 News reached out to Cornell, who also serves as president of the Erie-Niagara Schools Superintendents Association.

“What the state education department rightly provides for and requires is that we find a way and a place to help that child work through that moment and with a school-based, mental health professional in a space that provides dignity for a child,” replied Cornell.

Cornell says his district does not have specific time-out rooms but provides space to help a child and students are never left alone.

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Michael Cornell, superintendent, Hamburg Central School District.

“I don't know anywhere where we toss a kid in a soundproof room and lock the door. That doesn't happen — period,” Cornell declared.

“Is there just a misunderstanding of what occurred at Silver Creek,” Buckley asked?

“I don't have any individual knowledge of exactly what happened at Silver Creek," responded Cornell. “I don’t know a single superintendent, who would as a matter of policy, endorse the idea that we are going to toss a kid into the soundproof room, lock the doors and leave him in there by himself for a while.”

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Inside a West Seneca classroom.

Cornell pointed out that there was mental health crisis among school-age children before the pandemic and COVID made it worse. He repeatedly warned the next wave of the pandemic would be students expiring mental and emotional challenges.

“Rather than highlighting what some might perceive as a failure of a particular school district, I think we should also perceive it for what it really is — which is a call to action to make sure we are driving funding and other resources directly into communities through the county and through the schools so that we can support things like youth mental health first aid,” described Cornell.

7 News also checked in with the Niagara Falls City School District. Superintendent Mark Laurrie says it does not use this strategy.

Instead, the Falls district has counselors, who sit with the child in their offices and they have games, bean bag chairs, snacks, and puppets. The counselors talk with the child to find out what's wrong and how they can help.