Most parents have gotten that call from that principle or teacher notifying them that their son or daughter was in a little bit of trouble for misbehaving. The punishment: maybe a detention, or perhaps writing an essay of apology. Well what if you found that instead, your child was huddled on the floor, crying, in a cold barren room?
That’s what one New Braunfels mother saw when she found her 9-year-old son Alex in that exact condition. The New Braunfels Independent School District has launched an investigation into the practice of placing children into what has been labeled the “focus room”.
Alex’s mother joined the Texas Standard to talk about what she saw and how she’s taking action.
When she first discovered Alex in the focus room, she asked why he had been placed there, as any parent would.
“They told me that he had thrown something – a piece of food in the cafeteria – he was taken outside, and he was running around in the rain,” she says. Alex’s mom later asked him several questions including whether or not he was allowed to have a jacket or go to the restroom: Alex says he was denied both on different occasions.
So what was the school’s answer to her inquiries about the rooms themselves?
“I said you know, ‘tell me why these rooms exist, I’ve never witnessed these before,” she says. “And they said that these are rooms for when [students] are being violent, having a fit, throwing biting, hitting – but again, I don’t believe that these rooms are being used appropriately.”
Alex told his mother that he’s been in the focus room several times, up to two days consecutively. Alex’s mother says the school did not tell her he was being sent to this room.
“I think I should have been consented, first and foremost. I had no idea that he was being put in this room the whole year. I would’ve liked to have been informed.”
When Alex and his mother left the school the day she discovered the focus room, Alex said, “Mommy, I didn’t sit in the circle. They’re going to make me go back tomorrow.”
Since the discovery was made, Alex’s mother has posted photos she took and conversations with Alex about these rooms online, so other parents can be aware of the practice and get in touch with the school. The general reaction, she says, has been mixed.
“I think that people don’t know the details of the events that day,” she says. “They probably think he was sent there for being a horrible child and I’m just a mother who kinda dropped him off and expected the government to take care of my son- and don’t really know that I was there all day.”