SILVER CREEK – An investigator hired by Silver Creek Central School looking into allegations those at the district’s elementary school locked students in an “isolation cell” has released findings of her probe.
Investigator Melanie Beardsley, who updated the Board of Education on Thursday night, found no evidence of student abuse.
Concerns were first highlighted by Jay Hall, Assistant Elementary School Principal, who penned a letter to the District’s Board of Education in April.
Among Hall’s allegations was that students were “inhumanely and illegally locked or barricaded” in an “isolation cell” within the school.
After a more than month’s long probe based on witness information and documents, the investigator says Hall’s claims are false.
Furthermore, the school board says that as a result of this investigation, the room’s use is a “absolute need” providing a safe space to de-escalate, calm down, and prepare for a safe return to the classroom.
The full report, released by the investigator, is posted below:
At the outset, I want to point out that specific details protected under federal, state, and local law, such as the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), cannot be disclosed in this presentation.
Meghan Hayes and I conducted the investigation. We are attorneys with the law firm, Webster Szanyi.
First, I’d like to speak to our methodology. We reached out to 34 people for interviews, including the parents and guardians of each student named in the Letter. We conducted 28 interviews. At two board meetings, the Board also urged anyone with information to come forward. All District administrators, teachers and staff fully cooperated with the investigation. Certain parents and community members did as well. On the other hand, Jay Hall and his brother, Rich Hall, refused to cooperate in the investigation. With regard to Jay Hall, on multiple occasions we requested that he meet with us, and we offered various accommodations to encourage him to participate. We also requested that he provide us with all information and documents he has related to his claims. He refused. Accordingly, we received absolutely no information from Jay Hall following receipt of the Letter and my one brief meeting with him on March 30th. Jay Hall’s brother Rich is an attorney who represents four District families bringing claims against the District. After learning that these families were represented by counsel, we requested interviews and information and Rich Hall refused to allow them to cooperate.
We conducted nearly all the interviews in-person. Some interviews were conducted virtually or by phone to accommodate the witness. We analyzed over 215 documents spanning thousands of pages and reviewed several videos. We inspected the room at issue, including the surrounding office space, classrooms, and other elementary school offices.
These findings are based on the witness information and documents.
I also want to mention that at the outset of the investigation, we immediately received evidence relating to particular allegations in the Letter. That evidence indicated that there was no immediate or ongoing threat to any District student. During the initial days of the investigation, we provided that evidence to the District and, in turn, the District found no reason to place any employee on administrative leave. As Mr. Boothe mentioned, we provided periodic updates to the Board and continuing throughout the investigation we found no evidence to recommend that the District place any teacher or staff member on administrative leave.
The De-Escalation Room
The De-Escalation Room is an area within Elementary Office E-102, that Mr. Hall refers to as an “isolation cell.” Elementary Office E-102 has been Mr. Hall’s Office this year and he had complete control over the entire space. The Room is eight feet by seven feet and has two large windows on one wall that allow anyone to look in or out of the Room and the Office Area. There is a door into the Room. It opens into the Room and does not lock from the inside. In other words, it is not possible to lock or barricade anyone in the Room. There is also a door to a storage closet within the Room. As you can see from the photographs, the walls are cinderblock like all walls throughout the elementary school and painted light blue. At the time of the investigation, the only item in the Room was a blue nurse’s cot with a headrest that could be placed upright or recline into a full supine position. The Room does not have exposed wiring or a razorblade-like mechanism as claimed. It is well lit and properly ventilated.
The Set Up and Use of the Room Prior to the 2021-2022 School Year
Prior to the current school year and, therefore, prior to Jay Hall’s employment with the District, another District employee used Elementary Office E-102. During that time, the Room was set up very differently than this school year. Prior to this school year, the Room had a rug on the floor, bean bags/bean bag chairs (one baseball bean bag, one football bean bag), one or more posters on the wall (one poster said “Good Vibes”), a blanket and/or pillows on the cot, a small desk and chair, books, and other sensory toys/manipulatives. The Room did not have exposed wiring, a razorblade like mechanism, or poor lighting or ventilation. In addition, there was no evidence that the Room ever locked from the inside.
Prior to this school year, the Room was used in a variety of ways. Students used the Room to take breaks, calm down, de-escalate, re-regulate, do homework, relax, and rest. There is no evidence that prior to this school year, any District administrator, teacher, or staff member used the Room to isolate, seclude, or punish students, nor is there evidence that the Room was used as an aversive intervention, meaning that it was not used as a way to discourage undesirable behavior, nor is there evidence that it was used in any inappropriate way for any inappropriate purpose.
The Set Up of the Room in the Present 2021-2022 School Year
When Mr. Hall began with the District as the Assistant Director of Programming for the current 2021-2022 school year, he was assigned Elementary Office E-102 which includes the De-Escalation Room, and he had complete control over it. There is no evidence that Mr. Hall was forced to leave the Room bare and free of all decorations and furniture; Mr. Hall chose to have only a nurse’s cot in the Room and, at times, to store boxes of supplies underneath the cot.
The Erie2 BOCES Coordinator of Health, Safety, and Energy inspected the Room on April 4, 2022, less than one week after the Board’s receipt of the Letter. The Health, Safety, and Energy Coordinator concluded that the room met the NYS standards for a time out room and is well-suited for the students in elementary school. Additionally, the Silver Creek Volunteer Fire Chief cited no concerns after inspecting the Room. Separately, a Senior Investigator from the New York State Police inspected the Room and did not report any negative findings.
The Use of the Room in the Present 2021-2022 School Year
There is no evidence that the District, or any administrator, teacher or staff member has used the Room at any time as a behavioral consequence, discipline, or as an aversive intervention for students, or for any other inappropriate purpose.
The Room has been used to de-escalate students and to provide a safe space when students act in a way that creates a danger to themselves, others, or property, consistent with the New York State Commissioner’s regulations. These regulations permit a room to be used precisely for these purposes, to allow, and I quote, a “student to safely de-escalate, regain control and prepare to meet expectations to return to his or her education program.”
Use of the Room with students was primarily in response to “unanticipated situations that pose[d] an immediate concern for the physical safety of a student or others,” permissible under the Commissioner’s regulations.
District Policies and Procedures
The District does not have a Board policy or any other written policies or procedures detailing the use of the Room. The District must develop and implement policies and procedures, which include the physical and monitoring requirements, parental rights, and IEP requirements for students with disabilities if it uses a time out room. The policy and procedures must minimally include:
(i) prohibiting placing a student in a locked room or space or in a room where the student cannot be continuously observed and supervised;
(ii) factors which may precipitate the use of the time out room;
(iii) time limitations for the use of the time out room;
(iv) staff training on the policies and procedures related to the use of time out room;
(v) data collection to monitor the effectiveness of the use of time out rooms; and
(vi) information to be provided to parents.
Separately and independently, the New York State Education Department’s Office of Special Education Quality Assurance conducted a separate investigation into the use of the Room. Consistent with our investigation, the Office determined only that the District has not developed or implemented policies and procedures regarding the use of a time out room for students with disabilities.
Allegations that Students were abused, neglected, or mistreated.
Consistent with New York State Education Law, New York State Penal Law, and District policies, no District administrator, teacher or staff member or other employee subjected any student to abuse, neglect, or mistreatment. There is no evidence that any student was struck, manhandled, or assaulted in any way.
When students engaged in conduct that could have caused injury to them, others, or property, District personnel used appropriate techniques to prevent or minimize injury. The techniques used in each instance are consistent with District Policies 7350 and 7530, New York State Penal Law, New York State Education Law, and New York State Commissioner of Education regulations.