SILVER CREEK, N.Y. (WIVB) – Children from kindergarten to second grade were locked in what’s been described as an “isolation room” at an elementary school outside Buffalo, New York, a district administrator wrote in a letter to the school board earlier this week.
The letter states that at least five students at Silver Creek Elementary School, including a kindergartner, have been “inhumanely and illegally locked or barricaded in an isolation cell.”
“I have been fighting all year to keep children out of the isolation cell,” wrote Jay Hall, the assistant director of elementary programming on Monday.
Hall described the room as a “cold, cinder block jail-like cell,” and said, “It should never, even for one second, be used in any capacity to redirect or punish any child at any time.”
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“Children as young as 5 years old are being blockaded and locked in the isolation cell, kicking the door, pounding on glass with their fists, banging their heads, crying profusely, pleading to be freed, all with complicit staff members standing by and watching,” Hall said.
Parents got wind of the letter and started posting complaints on Facebook this week. “You better pray we never find out that our son has ever been put in one of these so called cells!!” wrote one parent.
On Wednesday, the school district issued a statement, saying in part:
“The District is aware that this morning there were concerns raised on social media pertaining to our Elementary School. The District’s most important priority is the safety and security of all District students and staff. We take any concerns and allegations regarding student safety and their wellbeing as the top priority.”
The district said a law firm, which also acts as counsel for the school board, is investigating the allegations. Superintendent Todd A. Crandall said he hopes to have a report by the end of the week.
Kerry Vasquezmarte, a district parent, said the concerns aren’t new. She said her special-needs daughter was locked in a room several times as a pre-K student at the elementary school. She said a classmate witnessed her daughter being dragged by her arms through a hallway.
Vasquezmarte said her daughter cried when she confronted her about the incident and still has nightmares. She said she met with a teacher and Superintendent Crandall over a year ago to discuss the isolation techniques.
“And all he did was blame my child during the meeting,” Vasquezmarte said. “And I said numerous times to get my child, I was taking her home, she’s not being locked in a room. It took me threatening him for him to finally radio down to wherever to retrieve my kid.”
Vasquezmarte said she eventually pulled her child out of pre-K and homeschooled her during the kindergarten year. Her daughter is back at the elementary school for first grade with a “fantastic” teacher, Vasquezmarte said.
“I was only made aware of any concern on Friday, March 18,” Crandall said. “I can’t comment on something from years ago.”
Crandall said the law firm had an attorney on site Wednesday to conduct interviews. The attorney was also on school district property Thursday.
“We are not about hiding anything or trying to cover up anything,” Crandall said. “Student and staff safety is paramount, and we look forward to hearing the results so that if need be we can address any protocol or procedures as needed.”
The New York State Department of Education says it could not confirm or deny that the state was looking into these claims. The Chautauqua County Sheriff’s Office said it is not investigating the claims at the school because no one has made a formal complaint.