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Valley schools put students in padded 'scream rooms'

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PHOENIX (CBS5) -

It's a punishment with many names: cool down rooms, time out rooms, even scream rooms.

You'll find them in many Valley schools and chances are you don't even know they exist.

They're essentially boxes where rowdy kids are sent to calm down.

But do they even work?

And is this a punishment that some schools are using a little too much?

"They never really told me why or when they put him in there, just that he was, quote, 'out of control,'" said mother Leslie Noyes.

Leslie and Eric Noyes are the proud parents of a 7-year-old boy.

"He's just a great kid, you know?" Eric Noyes said.

The second-grader has some special needs, so he was placed in the special education class at Desert Sage Elementary School in the Deer Valley Unified School District.

One day he came home with a disturbing story.

"He has been complaining about being restrained -- he uses that word, restrained. And being put into cool down," Leslie Noyes said.

"I was thinking there's probably some bean bag chairs, maybe some books and just a room to get away from his general class. I had no idea it was literally almost a padded cell," Eric Noyes said.

Leslie went to school armed with a camera and took pictures as proof.

They show a 5-foot by 5-foot padded box placed inside an empty classroom.

"My son has said he's been there anywhere from a few minutes to almost all day," Leslie Noyes said.

CBS 5 News went to Deer Valley with the accusations that a young boy saying he wasn't even let out to use the bathroom, and that he had to eat lunch in there.

They refused to speak with us on camera, but released a statement that reads in part, "If a child requires the use of seclusion/physical intervention, parents are notified as soon as possible within the same school day.  Two adults always accompany the child when secluded.  This is the last method of behavior management schools use with a student."

Deer Valley's spokesperson also said Eric and Leslie's son has been in the room 17 times since October, but they deny he was left there any longer than 15 minutes at a time.

Eric doesn't buy it.

"I think it probably happens quite a bit, and I think it's happening more often than it's being reported and recorded," he said.

"The state board of education and the Legislature have recommended some guidelines for school districts," said State Department of Education spokesman Andrew LeFevre.

CBS 5 News went straight to the state to find out what rules school districts have to play by when it comes to restraining our kids or sticking them in these cool down rooms.

It turns out Arizona is one of just six states that doesn't have any laws regulating seclusion and restraint.

Why isn't there a state law?

"I think that's just part of Arizona history and the way they want to do it," LeFevre said.

Lefevre said Arizona chooses to let school districts decide what they'd like to do.

CBS 5 News went to a psychologist to find out what schools should be doing.

"You know, we call it putting more fuel on the fire," said Dr. Joseph Gentry

Gentry doesn't believe in seclusion, period.

"I mean, imagine how it would feel for us," he questioned.

Gentry said positive reinforcement should be used rather than scare tactics to teach students.

"Instead of reacting to and punishing a child for doing something wrong we catch them doing something good or teach them what they should be doing and reinforce them," Gentry said.

One method Arizona does have is a task force that was made to come up with some suggestions for school districts about seclusion and restraint.

The No. 1 recommendation was to create a positive school climate to help change disruptive behavior.

Again that's just a recommendation, schools in our state aren't required to do anything at all.

Copyright 2012 KPHO (Meredith Corporation).  All rights reserved.

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