Are children being kept in an enclosed area to keep them under control in a Las Vegas valley school? One lawyer refers to it as a “hot box.”
Some parents are raising questions about Variety School, a school in the district for students with special needs.
Shantal Myers says a trip to pick up her son Christian from Variety, a school for special needs students, led to the revelation from staff about an incident.
“Just talking about it makes me upset again,” said Shantal Myers, mother. “They were doing some exercise and he got frustrated with the block and so they told him to go outside to calm down, and it was the end of July.
Myers claims staff placed her son in an enclosed area with a door leading to the classroom, after he became frustrated with the classroom exercise.
“My attorney calls it a hot box,” she said. “It’s just hard material. There’s nothing soft out there.”
Christian is autistic and non-verbal.
“When he gets upset, he likes to run into walls,” Myers said. “She (special needs aide) said, ‘Well we left him out there’ and I was like alone? And she said, ‘yes alone’ and I said how long was he out there? And she said, ‘approximately 10 minutes and he also had an accident in his pants when he was outside.'”
According to its website, Variety is aimed at ensuring the least restrictive environment through positive behavioral intervention.
“Just him being out there for 10 minutes and the fact that, they were telling me this. My son was out in this area. It was 105 degrees outside,” Myers said. “I don’t know if she was watching, looking through the window, and he could see in the window, I don’t know, it just breaks my heart when I think about it.”
Myers says through an individualized education plan or IEP, school staff was forbidden from placing Christian in the so-called “hot box” again.
She provided a document to the I-Team which states the student will be provided an appropriate cool down area within the school building not the outside patio area.
But one year later, Myers describes a disturbing visit to the classroom.
“I saw them struggling with a little boy. He was probably like 50 pounds. I mean, small little thing. And they put him outside and she shut the door and I was like I can’t believe that this is happening right in front of my face.”
She says it was another hot day.
“I got back into my car after I left there and I just broke down crying. I looked at the temperature on my car. It was 103 degrees,” Myers said.
Christian now attends a different school.
But Myers took her concerns about Variety to the Nevada Department of Education with attorney Marianne Lanuti.
“A lot of parents have a lot of concerns that are not being answered,” said attorney Marianne Lanuti.
The I-Team dug deeper into Variety School and requested the number of interventions which includes when students are restrained or separated for behavioral issues.
From August through December of 2018 alone, 733 pages worth in a school with 154 students. The I-Team also tracked down salaries.
For classroom aides, we calculated an average salary of more than $27,000 that includes overtime. For teachers, less than $49,000.
Staff at Variety frequently report punches, head butts, and bites from students.
According to district spokeswoman Kirsten Searer, special needs staff generally make the same salary as other teachers.
She tells the I-Team, the only extra training to work with special needs students is a mandatory video.
When the I-Team requested an interview with school Superintendent Doctor Jesus Jara, Searer provided an interview.
“We know that our non-verbal kids are some of our most vulnerable kids,” Searer said. “I think that Dr. Jara has made it clear that he wants to serve the needs of every student and you know one of the things that we’re also talking about is the cost of serving our special needs students.”
A school district spokesman says Variety has a calming area or padded room and another short-term support classroom for students in crisis. And “administration has since directed staff that the patio area is only to be used when a student initiates access to this area.” And students are not placed there.
He describes the outdoor patio as an extension of the classroom and learning environment.
But to this mom, it looked more like a punishment.
“I think administration is turning a blind eye, yes. And I think a lot of parents aren’t aware that it’s even happening,” Myers said.
There is a bill to introduce cameras in special needs classrooms under review right now at the Nevada Legislative session.
Shantal Myers says she supports it.
The I-Team took a closer look at the issue earlier this month. You can see that story here.