By Cindy Kranz
The Cincinnati Enquirer
GROESBECK - A White Oak Middle School mother has filed a complaint with the Northwest Board of Education, saying her 12-year-old son spent most of two school days this month in a hot "Personal Reflection Area" for not finishing his assignments.
Carrie Davis, a child advocate and president of Child Advocacy for Rights and Equity, claims isolating her son Jacob in the hot time-out area is abusive and violates his Individualized Education Plan, a written plan designed to help him succeed with learning disabilities.
Davis is asking the board to end the "excessive and egregious disciplinary actions taken against students within White Oak Middle School," on behalf of her sixth-grader and other children who have been assigned to the Personal Reflection Area. She also wants the board to develop clear policies for disciplinary actions.
Earlier this month, her son sat for five hours a day, with only a break for lunch, in a corner of a classroom that is partitioned off by a portable wall, she said. The area near the windows gets so warm, she said, that Jacob and other students have heard teachers call it "the sweatbox."
Jacob said he came home with headaches. "It was hot," he said. "They won't let you close the shades or open a window."
He also said he was not allowed to use the bathroom or get a drink of water.
School personnel, however, tell a different story.
Traci Rea, principal of White Oak Middle School, said the school did not violate Jacob's Individualized Education Plan. "A student would not have been placed in this area for missing his assignments."
What's more, she said, the Personal Reflection Area has the same climate as the rest of the classroom, and students have ample opportunities for breaks. She said she has never heard the term "sweatbox."
Jacob can recall four or five other students who have landed in "the box" this year.
Branden Hibbitts, another 12-year-old sixth-grader, said he has spent four days there this month for infractions such as throwing paper wads and not having his textbook.
"They call it Personal Reflection, but when I was in there one time, (teachers) called it 'the sweatbox,' "Branden said. "It was hot, sometimes, because they wouldn't let you pull down the blinds. It was kind of hard to think, because they're teaching, and you're sitting there. It's kind of hard to do your work."
Branden was able to go to lunch, but said he was denied a bathroom break while he was in the area.
"They're there for a reason, but that's not right," said his mother, Denise West of Green Township. "I don't agree with having them in a corner like that. If the sun is beating down, let them draw the shade."
Assistant Superintendent Margie Rennie reiterated Rea's position.
"My understanding of the Personal Reflection Area is they have the same breaks as the rest of the students in the classroom," Rennie said. "In terms of the temperature, depending on the time of year, the classrooms can be quite warm."
The Personal Reflection Area is a time-out device - the seventh step as part of a team discipline plan that is new this year, Rea said.
"It is one step after these steps have been followed: warnings, conversations with students to solve discipline situations, phone calls home, detentions, team conferences with students and multiple parent telephone calls," Rea said.
"Parents and students have several opportunities to work on improving behavior before being assigned to the Personal Reflection Area. Students are not placed there for academic reasons."
Davis said she never received any phone calls from the school to discuss the possibility that Jacob would be placed in the area.
Jacob is not disruptive, she said, adding that he was disciplined once this school year for exiting the locker room from the wrong door. Otherwise, the only other problems the school communicated via a weekly report were forgetting a textbook and a binder, and being late for class, Davis said.
By being in the Personal Reflection Area, Jacob's mother said, he was denied his rightful access to education, missing his classes in other core subjects and last bell, an enrichment time to help prepare students to pass the sixth-grade proficiency test.
The sixth grade at White Oak is divided into three teams of about 120 students and five teachers each. Only Team Excite, which is Jacob's team, uses a Personal Reflection Area. They are in two classrooms.
"A student is placed there to work on classroom work and to minimize their distraction to the classroom," Rea said. "Students who are placed there are given the same restroom and drink breaks as are offered to other students, and classroom assistance from teachers is always available to those students."
The Personal Reflection Area is an alternative learning placement for the core subject time, so students don't miss any electives or academic proficiency support classes, she said.
Teachers declined to be interviewed, saying the principal would respond for them.
Rick Stewart, president of the school board, did not return phone calls from the Enquirer.
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