Use of seclusion rooms remains focus of debate at Morris Jeff charter school

UPDATE: The following report contains new material made available to The Lens since the article was first posted. School principal Patricia Perkins and board president Aesha Rasheed criticized the article in terms reflected in comments below from Rasheed and former board president Broderick Bagert. The updates noted in the text draw on a Sept. 15 interview with Perkins and Rasheed and on phone calls or emails from other parties to the dispute. 

By Jessica Williams, The Lens staff writer |

Joyce Giles says she never imagined elementary school administrators would hurt her 6-year-old son, Ty’ryan.

“He went to crying, and said, ‘Mama, they bothering me, they pulling on my clothes and they putting me in that room and turning my light out on me,’ ” she said, recalling the boy’s outburst as she dropped him off at Morris Jeff Community School in Mid-City one morning.

Yes, Ty’ryan admitted to his mother, he had been acting out in the classroom. But, like other parents of misbehaving children, Giles was shocked to learn that the school’s response was, as she put it, to pull and drag her son into a darkened room and make him sit there alone.  Giles said her son, who shows signs of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD, suffered psychological trauma from the harsh punishment, a response to a behavioral problem not listed in the school’s discipline code.

Parental concern has crested nationally over use of  “time-out” or “seclusion” rooms, particularly for disciplining students with special needs. A 13-year-old Georgia student with ADHD hanged himself after being put in a seclusion room in 2004, leading federal and state lawmakers to clamor for stricter regulations.

Under orders from Louisiana’s legislators, the state’s Board of Elementary and Secondary Education is now drafting a set of rules for seclusion rooms and the use of restraint on students.

It’s unclear how many schools in New Orleans are using seclusion rooms. Morris Jeff is the only one at which parents were willing to speak to The Lens.

According to a 2007 Clemson University study, 24 states have laws on seclusion rooms and restraint. Louisiana is one of them, though the rules for implementing the law are still being drawn up. While seclusion rooms are legal, and left to the jurisdiction of individual school districts, the law makes clear that students are subject to seclusion only when they pose an imminent threat to themselves or to someone else, and only as a last resort.

Seclusion should never be used as punishment, or for the convenience of staff, the law states.

NOTE: Morris Jeff officials said they don’t remove disruptive students from class as a form of punishment, nor do they use the term “seclusion room,” preferring instead “time-out room.” Therefore, the practice would not be listed among disciplinary procedures.

The practice is forbidden at schools directly run or chartered by the Orleans Parish School Board. The board’s unified code of conduct equates seclusion and locked isolation with corporal punishment – which is illegal. “Corporal punishment refers to intentional application of physical pain as a method of changing behavior…it also includes the use of seclusion, i.e., locked isolation, and inappropriate restraint,” the code states.

Along with the board, the state-run Recovery School District either runs or charters nearly all other schools in New Orleans.

The district’s code of conduct, applicable to both directly run and chartered schools, does not refer to corporal punishment or seclusion. But special-needs compliance officer Linda Brown, who served last year as a charter-school coordinator for special needs students, said that the use of such rooms is not unusual.

“We can provide for children what we call a safe room,” she said. “I don’t use the word ‘seclusion’ because it’s not like you are secluding a child. You are providing a space for a child to do two things – calm down, and get back in the classroom. That’s how I look at the rooms.”

Charter schools, with their greater autonomy, have some leeway in crafting discipline policies, as long as those policies are consistent with the state’s goal of rewarding positive behavior as a way of cutting down on suspensions and expulsions.

Morris Jeff, which was chartered by the Recovery School District, serves pre-kindergarten through third-grade students. It lists standard disciplinary offenses and consequences, as outlined by state law, in its student handbook, but it makes no mention of seclusion or safe rooms.

Neither does the revised discipline policy that was submitted to the state Department of Education at the end of the 2010-2011 school year.

However, Principal Patricia Perkins confirmed these practices in a March interview after complaints arose about the practice.

“There are a lot of different ways to have time out,” she said. “That is one of our most successful ways of working with children who have had a meltdown, or a disobeying of a rule.”

In some cases, children are told to sit in a time-out section of the classroom, Perkins said, but in other cases, they are taken to areas in the building: the secretary’s office or the library. The room students were taken to last year is now being used as an office, Perkins said.

Putting them in an empty room is what agitates Giles and other Morris Jeff parents, but Perkins said it’s sometimes necessary.

“If a child is acting out in a manner where he or she could hurt someone, such as throwing a chair, or running away, a safe place is needed in order to intervene and assist the child in de-escalating the situation,” Perkins said. “It’s essentially a room that doesn’t have any furniture or stimuli. If a child is very aggressive, meaning a danger to self or others, then we might shut the door, but the child was never left alone.”

Perkins said that a faculty member ordinarily is either in the room or just outside of it, and all her teachers are trained in crisis intervention, and well equipped to handle extreme situations, Perkins added.

Complaints about the practice surfaced at the charter board’s Feb. 22 and March 17 meetings. Parents said better trained staff wouldn’t resort to seclusion and complained that, like Giles, they weren’t notified when that their children were might be subjected to it.

NOTE: The changes above reflect this correction: The parental complaint  was that they weren’t notified at the start of the school year that their children, if disruptive, might be separated from classmates. Morris Jeff officials said parents were always notified after children required this treatment, and parents confirmed this communication.

When school leaders at the March meeting handed out results of a recent parent-satisfaction survey, Rhonda Williams, the grandmother of a 5-year-old former Morris Jeff student said parents who gave the school favorable marks on the survey didn’t know about the rooms.

“When you gave out that survey, did you give the parents a written policy of discipline? Did you tell the parents that you are locking children in what you call a seclusion room for more than 10 minutes at a time? Did you tell your parents that? No you didn’t,” she told the board. “It’s dark. It has no furniture in it. Your child may knock and ask to go to the restroom and they’re told ‘Wait till you finish your time.’ And they wet themselves,” she said.

Williams said her granddaughter had been locked in the room more than once.

“You lock dogs up. You don’t lock human beings up,” she said.

Loria Joseph, the grandmother of a 6-year-old who attended Morris Jeff last year, said that her granddaughter was roughly handled when being placed in the room.

“My grandbaby was locked in the room. She said they twisted her arm, twisted her leg, sat on top of her,” Joseph said. “She came home screaming. One lady saw it and called us and told us. We would have never known what was going on.”

Joseph also alleged that school officials called law enforcement on her granddaughter after she was let out of the room.

While Perkins declined to speak to individual discipline situations, she said Morris Jeff faculty members do not harm children.

“Did I ever pull or drag a child? No. We don’t drag children around here. Did I ever lock a child in a room by themselves? No, we don’t lock children in rooms,” she said. “Did we ever use a time out room as a last resort for a child who needed to calm down? Yes, on the rare occasion when we deemed that the student was creating a dangerous situation for him or herself or others.”

Perkins confirmed that in extreme cases, a crisis team affiliated with the New Orleans Police Department could be called after a student had spent time in a seclusion room. But the parent is always notified prior to the crisis team’s arrival, she said.

At the meeting, Perkins circulated copies of a Recovery School District document entitled “Responses to Intervention,” which lays out procedures to be followed for handling disruptive students. The information was not in the student handbook that parents received in August 2010, nor was it in the revised discipline policy that Morris Jeff submitted to the state, The Lens found. Further, the responses to intervention do not specify that a student may be placed in a seclusion room — indeed, the document does not mention specific discipline procedures of any kind.

NOTE: The document does address some specific measures, though it never mentions that a child may be isolated.

In an August interview, Perkins said that the documents passed out at the meeting were incomplete and that the policy was still being revised. As late as Aug. 18, a week after the school year began, changes were being made to a copy of the discipline policy posted on the school’s website.

Use of seclusion rooms has created conflict among Morris Jeff faculty and board members. A former teacher, Dana French Christian, was fired after complaining to the administration about colleagues using the seclusion room, though school leaders say her dismissal was not related to her complaints.

NOTE: With Christian’s approval, a copy of the transcript of her termination hearing was made available to The Lens. As school officials contended, the proceedings centered on allegations of excessive tardiness and abrasive behavior by Christian, not her campaign against seclusion. Christian counters by saying that the timing of the school’s move against her is suspect.

Christian said the principal and other teachers used the room because they did not know how to manage high-need African-American kids.

“Anytime that you have a mixed community, as this is, you have to have intentional discussions about race and culture,” Christian said. “Naturally, the problems arise as a result when we do not have discussions. There were very specific issues surrounding discipline, and particularly the challenges of relating to African-American children.”

Christian said that her March 11 termination was because she spoke out and had nothing to do with her effectiveness as a teacher. 

NOTE: The content of the previous sentence has now been included earlier in the article.

In an Aug. 29 interview, she said she had just filed a lawsuit against Perkins and the school.

When asked about the circumstances regarding Christian’s termination, Perkins and the board’s president, Aesha Rasheed, said they do not publicly discuss personnel issues.

NOTE: It became possible for Rasheed and Perkins to discuss the termination after the transcript was released, and they did so in the Sept. 15 interview, saying that the termination was unrelated to the seclusion issue.

However, former board member Davina Allen said that the timing of Christian’s termination, the board’s handling of Christian’s termination hearing, and the way the board handled parent complaints were among reasons she decided to step down.

“After this issue arose, literally eight days later, Ms. Christian is terminated, and then the board turns their entire attention to Ms. Christian and trying to uphold the merits of her termination,” rather than address the issue of seclusion itself, said Allen. “And I just wondered, what about these kids? How about we turn this attention to them? Ms. Christian’s termination has nothing to do with her being accused of mistreating children. You have terminated this teacher for alleged misconduct around other things, but no one has been terminated around the issue.”

Allen said that the board never really investigated the seclusion issue, and that three parents withdrew children from the school as a consequence.

Rasheed said the meetings didn’t get into the seclusion issue because parents didn’t write down their concerns, the usual practice when someone wants the board to discuss a grievance.

“The purpose of having a grievance process is to have people articulate clearly what happened. And that never happened,” Rasheed said. “They never actually came to us and formally submitted a grievance.”

NOTE: Rasheed told parents at the March 17 meeting that she was available to help them navigate the grievance process.

At the March 17 board meeting, board members voted on a formal grievance process, and passed around a draft of the process for the audience’s review. Before this, no such process was in place, Rasheed said. At that meeting, when parents raised their concerns, former board president Broderick Bagert repeatedly asked them not to mention specifics in a public forum, and to submit their concerns in writing. Parents at the meeting responded that they did submit concerns.

NOTE: For a copy of the form letter received by the board, click here. To see the Morris Jeff Complaint Committee’s recommendation to the full board after looking into matters, click here.

Outside of seclusion room use, another issue at the meeting was the lack of defined discipline policies in the original draft of the school’s handbook. Allen said at the March 17 meeting that the board didn’t receive a copy of the student handbook until a day after the Feb. 22 meeting. When the board did look at the handbook, it found no written expulsion procedures, a special-education section with only two sentences, and it found that it wasn’t in line with the legal guidebook developed by New Schools for New Orleans, a non-profit that promotes school reform. The guidebook states that a school must list clear illustrations of behavioral expectations, including what punishments parents can expect children to receive during the school day, whether minor or major.

The trauma associated with the use of seclusion rooms, particularly among students with illnesses like ADHD, has been well-documented. The national Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration released a 2003 statement that linked seclusion to suicides and serious injury, particularly among children with mental health problems. The statement said that the extreme reactions to seclusion are more likely in settings where no national guidelines exist, such as schools and hospitals.

The National Association of State Mental Health Directors’s 2007 statement is similar when describing possible risks – and in the same vein as Louisiana law, it says seclusion should never be used as discipline.

A bill regarding seclusion rooms and restraint, entitled the Keeping All Students Safe Act (H.R. 1381) passed in the U.S. House of Representatives in early 2010 but died in the Senate. The bill has been reintroduced in the House this year. If passed, it will give money to schools that implement positive-behavior support strategies in lieu of seclusion and restraint practices. The bill will also provide states with money to collect data on the use of seclusion and restraint.

Louisiana lawmakers also responded to concerns over seclusion rooms in 2010 with the passage of Act 698, which requires BESE to develop guidelines for using seclusion and restraint for students with special needs. In June 2011, this act was revised to require BESE to create laws, instead of simple guidelines. A draft of the original guidelines is publicly available.

Among the draft’s main points:


  • Local education agencies should outline written procedures, so that the use of seclusion is consistent and planned in advance. These include, but are not limited to, how parents are notified and what behaviors trigger use of seclusion.
  • A student with an exceptionality should not be placed in a seclusion room except by a school employee trained in the appropriate use of seclusion rooms and the handling of students relegated to them.
  • A student shall not be secluded or restrained for more than fifteen minutes after the initiation of the seclusion except in extraordinary circumstances, where an imminent threat of serious physical injury or death still exists as determined by trained school staff.

The new law will be drafted after BESE gathers input from stakeholders, spokeswoman Ileana Ledet said.


Help us report this story     Report an error    
The Lens' donors and partners may be mentioned or have a stake in the stories we cover.
About Jessica Williams

Jessica Williams stays on top of the city's loosely organized collection of public schools, with a special emphasis on charter schools. In 2011 she was recognized by the Press Club of New Orleans for her reporting on charter school transparency and governance. In 2012, she was part of a team that received a National Edward R. Murrow Award for their work following a New Orleans family's recovery after Hurricane Katrina. She graduated from Edna Karr Secondary School in Algiers, and she obtained her bachelor’s degree in journalism from Loyola University New Orleans. She can be reached at (504) 575-8191.

  • Aesha Rasheed

    There is no matter more deserving of thoughtful attention and deep consideration than the education of our children, and so, as an advocate for children and families, I was glad to see The Lens turn its focus toward the complex maze of public schools in New Orleans.

    However, I was deeply disappointed to read this under-reported and misrepresentative article about Morris Jeff Community School, its leadership, our parent community, and the board’s efforts to be transparent and accountable to our families.

    When Jessica Williams approached the school about concerns that were raised by some parents, we were happy to talk to her about how the school community worked to address issues, and we welcomed her in to visit the school and learn more. The resulting story, however, woefully mischaracterizes the actions of school staff and the board.

    Reading this story, one is left to believe that, upon hearing concerns from parents, the board callously said “put it in writing” and left it at that. In fact, as I told Ms. Williams, we encouraged the families to consider using the board’s formal complaint process, which begins with a written account of the issues or specific incidents of concern. We further offered to assist parents in following the formal process.

    Although the parents opted to not request a formal review of the issues they raised, we made ourselves available for further dialogue, and worked with school staff to set up follow-up meetings with each family to address concerns. We also made sure we were informed about the school’s actual practices related to the use of time-out and cool-down strategies and made a point to share clarifying information with parents and the general public during our March board meeting.

    Additionally, we also deepened our own inquiry and found nothing to support the allegation that children were locked in rooms or that parents were not notified of the school’s efforts to find effective strategies for supporting their children’s needs. In fact, we found much evidence to the contrary.

    The article then allows a former staff member to make the claim that her termination was executed in retaliation for her support of parents raising concerns.

    Ms. Williams states that I and the school leader refused to comment on this claim when, in fact, she did not ask about this teacher or the reasons for her termination when she spoke to me for this article last month.

    If she had asked, I would have encouraged her to read the formal transcript of the appeal hearing concerning this teacher’s dismissal, which was held during a public meeting at the teacher’s request and was fully transcribed. The transcript documented the causes for this teacher’s termination, which had begun well before the February 22nd board meeting.

    Furthermore, Ms. Williams’ article allows this former staff member (with motives that are questionable, at best) to make sweeping allegations about the treatment of children. The story implies that African-American children are being routinely mistreated at the school, but the reporter does not appear to have spoken to any other of the many African-American parents at MJCS.

    There are very serious issues impacting the education of our young people. I hope that, in future reporting, The Lens will work harder to fully report these matters and help our communities have deep conversations about how to create the kinds of schools our children deserve.

  • The Advocacy Center provides free legal services to students with disabilities. We are committed to insuring that all children with disabilities receive a free and appropriate education in an environment that is safe from abuse and neglect. If parents have been denied services, are receiving inappropriate educational services, or believe their child is being abused or neglected, we’d like to hear from you. Please call the Advocacy Center’s Intake number at 1-800-960-7705 or 504-522-2337. Advocacy Center is a non-profit agency, and there is no charge for our services.

  • Jessica Williams

    Hi Aesha,

    Thanks for your feedback.

    I look forward to receiving documents and other information that sheds light on the two areas of your concern: Ms. Christian’s departure and the meeting with parents critical of seclusion rooms.

    My regret, which perhaps you now share, is that this information wasn’t made available last spring as I began reporting the story or again last month when I had a follow-up conversation with Principal Perkins. Instead, in March I was told both by you and Ms. Perkins that the school was not at liberty to discuss Ms. Christian’s departure. I took you at your word.

    Regarding the parents who complained about the seclusion room, I was told — as I reported — that the board required complaints in writing and, for lack of them from the parent group, seemed to have moved on. Had you advised me that the parents met with school officials, of course I would have been interested to report what transpired, both from the school’s and from the parents’ point of view.

    I certainly regret your discomfort with my reporting and erroneous impressions, if any, that it may have produced. If there’s a moral to the story, it’s that a spirit of candor and openness among public officials and public employees is the best way to assure that nuances to a story are fully captured by media.


    Jessica Williams

  • Broderick Bagert

    Dear Ms. Williams,

    I’m simply amazed that you would write about the causes for the dismissal of an employee without reviewing, or even requesting a summary of, the public hearing about the causes for the dismissal of that employee. It’s like reporting on a Saints game without watching the game.

    As you are of course aware, last Spring the dismissed employee had an active appeal, so it would have been highly inappropriate for any board member to comment on the still-pending case.

    You also were informed that since you asked about this story back in March, that appeal hearing took place in May — and it was a public hearing. You didn’t attend it. You decided not to read the transcript or request any information from that hearing. To pretend as though this information was somehow withheld from you, that there was any lack of “a spirit of candor and openness”, is a disingenuous way to cover for extraordinarily irresponsible and incurious journalism.

    You’ve told an extremely misleading and inaccurate story here. And that’s not because of some problem with how the school has dealt with you. It’s because you published a story in September based on reporting you did in March, and you didn’t bother to check back about things that happened and become public in the interim.

    This is truly disappointing, because we NEED more investigative stories about public education, perhaps discipline practices most of all. But this sort of irresponsible, slipshod reporting does not serve the cause of enhancing the public dialogue about these issues. It does just the opposite.

  • Jessica Williams

    Dear Mr. Bagert:

    As mentioned in my note (above) to Aesha Rasheed, I took school officials at their word when told they would not be able to discuss Ms. Christian’s ouster beyond disputing that it was caused by her criticism of seclusion rooms (a statement that I included in the story.)

    The reporting was begun in March but did not end then. As the article reflects, as recently as last month I was in touch with both Aesha and Principal Perkins. I did not think to ask them if they had changed their minds about discussing Ms. Christian’s departure and, though aware of my interest in that aspect of the story, they did not think to tell me that they now felt free to comment.

    I regret your attack on my skills as a journalist. As mentioned in my note to Aesha, more open and frank discussion among all of us might be a way to avoid such disappointments in the future.

  • Davina Allen

    I must respond to the criticisms and misrepresentations of the current and former presidents of the board of the Morris Jeff Community School, Ms. Rasheed and Mr. Bagert. As the former vice president of the board and a current educator, I was present for the entire unfolding of these appalling events.

    By way of full disclosure: Mrs. Christian, the terminated teacher, is both a respected personal and professional friend.

    Firstly, I will agree with Ms. Rasheed that the story misrepresents the actions of the board. The story did not do nearly enough to reveal the woeful incompetence of the board’s handling of this case.

    After concerns were raised, the board on multiple occasions refused to meet with the head of special education for the RSD in order to become educated on the relevant laws and policies which the school was clearly in violation of. I requested that the board immediately get into contact with the head of SpEd after the Feb 22 board meeting so that we could become educated on what was required of the school to become fully compliant.

    Both Ms. Rasheed over the phone and Mr. Bagert in writing objected to meeting with the appropriate authority, and in fact, it was only when said authority demanded to meet with the board after learning of parental concerns that they finally submitted to the training and accountability that they should have sought the minute these grave concerns were raised. Transparency and accountability were clearly not the priority of Mr. Bagert and Ms. Rasheed.

    Though parents raised their concerns in the only manner available to them as no grievance policy was in place at the time, the board initially refused multiple times to take their concerns seriously by launching a full investigation. The repeated excuse was that the grievance policy required the grievance to be submitted in writing, but again, the parents had never actually seen such a policy when they attended the board meeting in February to make their concerns known as no such policy even existed. They were also never provided with any sort of form or document in which to submit their grievance despite claims to the contrary. It was only after the community started a letter writing campaign in April/May via e-mail that the board finally did an “investigation”, which of course repudiates any responsibility whatsoever for what happened to these children.

    While Ms. Rasheed and Mr. Bagert claim that the board did a thorough investigation and could find nothing to verify the mistreatment of students, my own investigations in March revealed three members of faculty and staff who corroborated the parents’ and Mrs. Christian’s version of the events that took place at the school, particularly as it relates to accounts of children being left in the seclusion room unattended, sometimes with the door open, other times with the door locked.

    I am stunned and slightly amused that Mr. Bagert and Ms. Rasheed continue to imply that Mrs. Christian, three other faculty and staff, and four or five parents are all liars. Even though they themselves were informed by the head of special education during a special meeting that the school’s actions (those that they admitted to, that is) were not in accordance with state and district policies on the appropriate use of seclusion rooms, and even after being provided with photographic evidence of a student in such a room by himself.

    With respects to Mrs. Christian’s termination, I will only echo the comments of several community members, educators and non-educators alike, who witnessed these events. They described it as one of the most utterly unprofessional and inept proceedings they have ever witnessed. Both Mr. Bagert and Ms. Rasheed saw fit to participate in the final decision making even though they had very clear conflicts of interest and there participation was highly inappropriate. Again, controlling and creating the outcome they desired was more important than both fairness and transparency.

    The board also failed to follow even their own guidelines and entered into “evidence” during deliberation several documents added to Mrs. Christian’s personnel file that they claimed during the hearing that they would not consider as Mrs. Christian had never seen these documents. Moreover, the board chose to entirely ignore a positive mid-year evaluation given to Mrs. Christian a mere two weeks prior to the board meeting in which she spoke out against the school’s disciplinary practices. As stated in the article eight business days after her attendance at that meeting she was fired without due process.

    As someone who worked hard for nearly four years on behalf of this school, spending countless hours in countless meetings fighting to get this school open, I have no reason whatsoever to falsify or invent the accounts described above.

    Words only begin to express my deep disappointment that my former friends have chosen to lead this school in such a self-serving way. It saddens me deeply that the atrocious leadership of this school at the level of the administration and the board has tarnished what we had all worked so hard to achieve.

    It is my hope, however, as an educator who is committed to excellence for all children that greater transparency and accountability will cause adults in positions of leadership to think twice before putting their own political, personal, and professional interests above those of the children who they are there to serve.

    I applaud the courage of The Lens and Ms. Williams for shining a light on this very important issue of charter school governance and accountability, especially as it relates to children with special needs.

  • Ashana Bigard

    Dear, Ms Williams and Aesha

    I am looking forward to and am very interested in seeing the results of the next board meeting. But quiet frankly, I’m shocked and appalled that Aesha Rasheed, the former director of New Orleans Parent Organizing Network who knows the plight of the parents in New Orleans. She knows through some of the parents who had literacy challenges, that parents who care about their children’s education come in all shapes ,sizes, races, and education levels, even if the parent cannot read or write, they may have valuable information to add about their children’s education process.
    Voicing concern about mistreatment of their child or children or any children for that matter is a very basic RIGHT.
    Also the right to speak for their children is a part of due process. As a person who has worked with parents and is supposed be culturally sensitive to the needs of parents, no matter what education level, I have to say that I’m disappointed. I expected better !!

  • Sue Bordelon

    As a public school parent, I am grateful there are wonderful teachers like Ms. Christian who place the needs and safety of children above their own. She risked and lost her job because she did what was right. She is a person of honor…she has not been tainted by the current educational atmosphere which marginalizes or excludes children with differing needs and abilities. I applaud Ms. Christian and I think all parents should pray that there is a Ms. Dana Christian at their child’s school. God Bless You, Ms.Christian, for being a voice for innocent children…..

  • courtney clark

    As a parent of one of these students who was placed in this room, I chose to not speak with the media to keep my sons name or my name out of the press. It was never made clear to me from any of the board members that I had spoken with on various occasions that any complaints needed to be put in writing. Everyone seemed to be more concerned in who contacted me, weather it was former teachers,or press. I chose to remain in the background in this situation. It was also never made clear if the matter was resolved the only thin I was told was that it was no longer being done. With all of the many things I was told and things I have heard the one thing that is clear my son was placed in that room. He was left alone weather it be for one minute or more, that was truly unacceptable. I guess it may have been an error on my part to step back but I think it is time for me to rethink that decision. I did not remove m son from MJCS, because all the charter schools have these type of problems being able to properly deal with kids with special needs of any kind. Because of my sons need a change would have made this situation more difficult and would had added a more traumatic outcome. I will not deny that I also took a backseat to the situation because of a fear that all parents have about shaking up things may cause things to be more difficult for my son and daughter who are still attending MJCS as well as making things more difficult for me being a single mother.

    But after reading the article I was not surprised. But it was the responses from current and former board members as well as Ms. Williams that encouraged me to respond at this time.

  • Anika Watson

    Dear Sister in Arms-
    I have 3 children in this setup called NO Public Schools. Ive been here 2 1/2 years in our 4th school. After moving frequently for professional purposes we’ve been through 3 public school systems, and 7 public schools and by New Orleans been my worst experience with the American public school system. Next year at my own expense I will probably home school.
    Stand strong and be a witness to the injustice being perpetrated on a population of the city that seems under attack!

    All blessing!!!

  • Dana French-Christian

    Quote from Ms. Aesha Rasheed, “Furthermore, Ms. Williams’ article allows this former staff member (with motives that are questionable, at best) to make sweeping allegations about the treatment of children.”

    For the purpose of shedding light on the utter ridiculousness of Ms. Rasheed’s suggestion that my motives are questionable, I offer a little background on myself.

    My background in education dates back many years ago as an African-American girl growing up in this city where the quality of education, as like many other things, were defined along racial and class lines. The majority of my adult life, in college and beyond, has been spent intentionally being an active participant in fighting injustices against oftentimes the most vulnerable and marginalized people, children and poor people.

    I am a recent graduate of the nation’s top educational leadership program from Teacher’s College, Columbia University with my masters degree in School Building & Organizational Leadership. I am a proud wife of an active duty military sergeant and a very proud mother of 10 year old son, who attends a local public school. I am a teacher, who works with an amazing group of kids and I am a person who is very aware of the options I have in life, unlike many of the children I serve currently and in the past.

    For Ms. Rasheed, a person who does not know me and with whom I’ve only had one conversation, to boldly hint that there is possibly some alternative motive for my speaking out about the heinous actions on the part of the principal and certain staff members towards African-American students with special needs, is desperate and laughable. As Ms. Allen mentioned in her above statement, the lack of action and behavior of Ms. Rasheed, Mr. Bagert and other members of the Morris Jeff Board is the second part of the story that has yet to be told. My question to Ms. Rasheed and Mr. Bagert is, “Why do you insist on making me the focal point of this story?”

    Since public awareness of the crimes that have occurred at Morris Jeff, Mrs. Perkins, Mr. Bagert and Ms. Rasheed have denied that these events ever took place and that I have somehow fabricated this whole story. Who does something like that? Clearly people who are more concerned with the public image of their school then the actual children that the school is serving. Well, thank goodness we don’t have to get boggled down with “he said, she said.” There is plenty of written, video and audio evidence that exists which chronicles the unraveling of events and clearly captures the poor leadership of Patricia Perkins and the Morris Jeff Board. So I say to Ms. Rasheed and Mr. Bagert, “Yes! Lets bring out the transcript of my hearing.” The hearing that I requested to be public but that Mr. Bagert and Ms. Rasheed wanted to keep isolated and inaccessible to community members by having it at some downtown law firm in a small conference room, thereby making transportation and parking a hardship.

    I would love for the Lens or any other media outlet that picks up on this story to get a copy of the transcript from the ignominious failure of what is referred to as my hearing so they can stimulate their imagination of the circus this event truly was.

    It’s time. Lets get it all out there. Lets bring out the video of parents confronting the MJ Board of their children being locked and left alone in the seclusion room. Lets bring out the video where Ms. Allen specifically requests immediate, discontinued use of the seclusion room until the Board investigates and Mr. Bagert’s response is, “We don’t make those types of rash decisions.” Or better yet, when Mr. Bagert insists on treating parents like insignificant nuisances by repeatedly telling heartbroken, emotional, upset parents that the Board must move on to other agenda items and they need to wrap up their comments. Lets reveal it all!

    My termination was nothing more than retaliation for speaking out against harsh, abusive acts against innocent 5 to 6 year old children. Dana French-Christian is not who this story is about. This story is about lack of cultural competency and poor leadership, which led to ineffective and abusive discipline practices towards poor, African-American children.

    Patricia Perkins fired me three and a half months before the school year ended and replaced me with an inexperienced uncertified teacher, which was a direct violation to the LA-4, Pre-K program guidelines. My kids losing their teacher was devastating to them (and me) and it reflected in their behavior and academic progress. And though many parents pleaded with Mrs. Perkins, stating that this would do harm to their kids, considering I was the only teacher (more like a parent, especially when they’re that young) they’d known and it could have unnecessary setbacks for their children, Patricia Perkins was determined to act on a decision that was not in the best interest of the children.

    I want to acknowledge the courage of Courtney Clark coming forward. I applaud you Courtney and thank you for your honesty.

    It is a sad, scary and dangerous tale when education has come down to faculty and parents feeling scared to come forward because they fear reprisal against themselves or their children.

    I am a mother first and an educator. My allegiance will always be to the most vulnerable and whose voices are often silenced. I would do it all over again, even knowing the outcome would be the same.

    Courage is rightly esteemed the first of human qualities… because it is the quality which guarantees all others.
    Winston Churchill

  • Davina Allen

    I would like to respond to the comments of Morris Jeff officials who continue to use Mrs. Christian’s termination as a distraction from being held accountable for the real issue which is their ignorance of relevant laws and policies related to special education discipline, and an inability to conduct themselves with candor and a sense of responsibility.

    As the story mentions, seclusion rooms are to be a LAST resort after ALL other options have been exhausted. It was absolutely clear from what Mrs. Perkins herself said both to the board and to the parents during and immediately after the Feb 22 meeting that the incremental intervention steps were not taken.

    Current special education policies require that students are first given various interventions such as behavioral intervention plans prior to a seclusion room being employed. Almost none of the children who were subjected to the room had been provided with such an intervention plan.

    In fact, it was only after parents raised objections and I and Mrs. Christian directed the board and administration to the relevant policies (including Act 698 above) that parents were finally contacted to set up the appropriate next steps in keeping with the proper intervention procedures. Next steps that should have happened BEFORE their children were ever placed in a seclusion room.

    Interestingly, though the board and administration continue to deny wrongdoing, in the aftermath of the Feb 22 board meeting they immediately ceased use of this particular room, as is made clear from the article. Why, if everything was kosher and on the up and up, was it necessary to cease use of the room?

    Additionally, as I mentioned earlier several faculty and staff members besides Mrs. Christian shared accounts of students being left unattended repeatedly. In fact, Ms. Clark, the parent who spoke in a comment above, was told of the neglect of her child, not by Mrs. Christian, but by an entirely different member of faculty and staff who had repeatedly witnessed her child being left unattended on multiple occasions. A second member of faculty and staff, again, not Mrs. Christian, further verified seeing Ms. Clark’s son unattended.

    Again, I ask, are Mrs. Christian, the other faculty and staff, Ms. Clark, and the other parents all lying? If any party to this story shows a propensity for dissembling, it is the board and administration of Morris Jeff Community School, and, the fact of the matter is that there is ample documented evidence of this tendency, including audio and video recordings.

    Moreover, as the board and administration saw fit to terminate Mrs. Christian for what they claim are excessive tardies and an “abrasive” demeanor, how on earth can it be that no one was held accountable and terminated for repeatedly leaving children unattended?? Why was no one held accountable for being willfully ignorant of readily available laws and policies that clearly detail the appropriate use of the room? Why was no one held accountable for refusing to let a child leave the room until she finally urinated on herself?

    If tardiness and “abrasiveness” is grounds for dismissal in the middle of the year, surely neglect and willful ignorance are grounds for immediate dismissal as well. But somehow, strangely, the board and administration saw fit to let the responsible persons off the hook no consequence whatsoever, not even a proverbial slap on the wrist.

    The administrators and board members exercise a curious, highly partisan version of “accountability” that has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with what is best for children.

  • Bonnie

    As a trained journalist, graduate of Orleans Parish Public Schools, and former founding board member of the Morris Jeff Family Partnership, I can only write this: God bless The Lens. May truth prevail.

  • Jane Broussard

    Please be advised that Senator Jack Donahue authored a bill in the 2011 legislative session that established RULES AND REGULATIONS for the appropriate use of restraints and seclusion for students with disabilities in Louisiana schools…even charter schools. SB 59 was signed by Governor Jindal and is now ACT 328.

    The rules are being developed now and should be brought to BESE in the next several months. These practices will now be regulated when used on students who have an IEP or IAP. Hopefully in the next session or so a similar law will be passed that extends to all students in our schools and abolishes corporal punishment.

  • Tom

    I don’t understand. I admit, the problem must be on my end.

    When I was a kid, I had ADHD, and was something of a troublemaker, and one of the ways my teachers used to deal with me was to send me to the principle’s office, where I was then made to sit in a small storage room adjoining the secretary’s office. This was in the mid-to-late nineties. I would stay there for at least an hour, and probably got sent there at least once a month. In many ways I actually preferred this to some of my classes, because I wasn’t expected to pay attention to anything. Nobody, including my parents, seemed to consider this at all unusual; although, to be fair, my behavioral problems could be extreme, and I’m pretty certain that I was the only kid they ever actually did this to.

    What, exactly, is so traumatic about all of this? This is not a rhetorical question. Using this form of punishment outside of severe cases is certainly overzealous, and the board certainly seems guilty of malfeasance with regard to compliance with laws governing disciplinary procedures, handling parents’ complaints, and firing Dana Christian. But the article seems to base itself on the notion that the punishment is, in and of itself, shocking and reprehensible. I must not understand exactly what these “seclusion rooms” entail. There is the case of the six-year-old mentioned in the article who was wildly mistreated in the course of this punishment, but that it is different from the seclusion room itself.

    What am I missing here?