When Kim Rollins' son asked for a pair of scissors to take to school a few weeks ago, she was heartened that the fourth-grader, diagnosed with an autism-related disorder, was excited by a class project.
No, Sage Rollins explained, he didn't need the scissors for a project. He wanted them so he could cut a window in the cardboard box his teacher sent him to sit in.
Sage, 10, told her that his teacher at Ronald Reagan Elementary School, in the southwest Riverside County community of Wildomar, sent him into the box when she became upset with him. Before that, she forced him to sit in a darkened supply closet, according to Rollins.
"I was outraged. I was insulted," Rollins said from her home in Wildomar, near Lake Elsinore. "I cried when I heard.
School principal Nori Chandler told a Riverside County Sheriff's Department investigator last month that Sage went into a closet on his own, when he wanted "quiet time," and was never sent by the teacher. Sage also told the deputy he went on his own when he needed a quiet place.
Rollins' attorney filed an administrative legal claim against the district and the teacher, a likely precursor to a lawsuit. The claim alleges that the isolation was involuntary, punitive and caused other fellow students to ridicule her son.
Using isolation as a punishment for a child with autism-related disorders not only is wrong, it is ineffective, said Ron Leaf of Autism Partnership in Seal Beach, which consults with school districts about teaching children with the disorders.
If the child knows that by acting out, he or she will be given a time out, the child may misbehave intentionally to avoid a stressful situation, such as a challenging lesson or participation in an activity, he said.
"What happened there is wrong in every which way," Leaf said.