FORT WORTH (CN) - A Texas school district is illegally using small "calm or blue rooms" to discipline and isolate disabled students - possibly to the point of neglect or abuse, Disability Rights Texas claims in Federal Court.
Disability Rights Texas sued the Mansfield Independent School District and Superintendent Jim Vaszauskas on Aug. 28.
The group says it is Texas's officially designated protection and advocacy group, under the federal Developmental Disabilities Assistance and Bill of Rights Act.
It claims it was alerted in April by several news sources and social media of isolation rooms at Annette Perry Elementary for students in the SUCCESS program - students who require "specialized social and behavioral instruction."
The school has two such rooms - one is 80 square feet, the other 58.5 square feet, according to the lawsuit.
Disability Rights Texas claims that the program guidelines indicate that "most" SUCCESS students will have "a disability of an emotional disturbance."
"The calm/blue rooms are used when APE [Annette Perry elementary] staff determine that a student's behavior warrants removing them from the SUCCESS classroom, " the complaint states.
"There is no limit to the amount of time a student is to be placed in the calm/blue room, and after placing a student in the room, APE teachers hold the door shut so the students cannot get out, thus turning the calm/blue room into seclusion." Program guidelines require a student to be locked in the room for the rest of the day if they have already been removed two or more times, the advocate says.
It claims that students who "engage in physical aggression" are put in isolation for the rest of the day or the next day.
Disability Rights Texas says that disabled students may be subjected to abuse or neglect by the use of the rooms. It asked Vaszauskas on June 5 to turn over the identities of SUCCESS parents to conduct a full investigation under its federal Protection and Advocacy System authority.
Five days later, the district declined, saying the information is confidential and not subject to release under the Federal Education Rights and Privacy Act and Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.
The district rejected a second request, saying it would not release the information "absent parent consent, subpoena or a court order." So Disability Rights Texas seeks a court order.
District officials said they could not comment on pending litigation.
Disability Rights Texas seeks declaratory and injunctive relief for violations of the Development Disabilities Assistance and Bill of Rights Act, the Protection and Advocacy of Individual Rights Act and the Protection and Advocacy for Individuals with Mental Illness Act.
It is represented by Colleen Elbe in Lubbock and Elise Mitchell in Dallas.