Judge rules Wake County Schools inappropriately put student with special needs in closet 24 times

North Carolina

CARY, N.C. (WNCN) – Wake County parents said their third-grade daughter was locked in a closet as a disciplinary measure at school – 24 times.

They sued the Wake County Public School System and the judge ruled in their favor in July.

Kevin and Jocelyn Pease are sharing their daughter’s story but don’t want her name to be part of it.

She’s now 12, dealing with trauma she experienced at 8 years old.

It started when she enrolled in Scotts Ridge Elementary School.

“She was like any other third-grade girl, about 75 pounds, excited about school,” said Jocelyn Pease.

She was in a behavioral program for her learning disabilities.

As the weeks and months went by, her anxiety spiraled.

“We went into the spring, she’s starting to talk about dying and wanted to die and not living, so we knew things were deteriorating,” said Jocelyn.

Jocelyn Pease said her daughter would take hours to calm down after being picked up in tears from school, and she couldn’t be in rooms alone at home.

They sought professional help but got nowhere.

“There was a lot of comforting going on at that time,” said Jocelyn Pease.

One day, their family friend was at the school and took video while seeing their daughter restrained and carried out of the cafeteria.

“We found out later she was taken to a closet in the teacher’s lounge where the door was held shut from the outside,” said Jocelyn Pease.

That led to them finding out their daughter had been shut in the closet dozens of times for bad behavior for up to an hour and a half at a time.

“‘Do you know what kind of children we deal with every day?’ is the actual answer we got,” said Jocelyn Pease.

They asked for it to stop immediately but were told that kind of punishment is allowed.

“Were you surprised being put in a closet was allowed?” CBS 17’s Bridget Chapman asked.

“Yes, Yes. I had never heard of that before,” said Jocelyn Pease.

They sued the district.

State law allows the use of restraint and seclusion under certain circumstances.

A judge ruled the school inappropriately did it in this case. The judge also found the school failed to inform the parents about what was happening, and the district failed to report it to the state.

“It is crucial for a school system to be honest, open, and upfront about what is happening when the parents aren’t there,” said Jocelyn Pease.

Although pleased with the ruling, the Peases now want to go further and get restraining and seclusion banned altogether.

“We’re going to keep moving until it changes because there are too many kids at risk,” she said.

The Peases said they are currently pushing for change at a federal level.

“It was tough. I don’t know how else to say it, it was just tough. It was tough on the whole family,” said Kevin Pease.

Wake County Public Schools released the following statement:

“The Wake County Public School System is unable to comment on an individual student or staff member. We strongly disagree with the decision and the characterization of staff actions and programs. School district personnel will seek WCPSS Board authority to appeal the decision. We consistently work to improve our comprehensive services and have great confidence in our programs and staff.”

The Peases are entitled to private tuition reimbursement and related costs, including transportation, court documents show. The child is also entitled to other forms of compensation such as years-worth of speech therapy, and education in social skills.

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