‘Calm rooms’ in schools creating panic for parents

CINCINNATI, OH (FOX19) - A FOX19 NOW Investigation looked at so-called "calming rooms" in Ohio schools. Now, a Clermont County mom is determined to be a beacon of change.

Jennifer Janevski said her son struggled at his prior school, with their calming room set-up.

Could Ohio schools be waiting to see how a high-profile Kentucky case shakes out, involving restraint and seclusion, before making their own policy changes?

The case in Covington shocked a lot of people, who saw the now infamous YouTube video, of a special needs child,  restrained in handcuffs and melting down.

Janevski said her son also has special needs and sometimes has explosive episodes, but putting him in a calming room only exacerbated an already bad situation.

It was the purple marks under then 6-year-old Wyatt Janevski's arms, which put his mom Jennifer into a panic.

"It was that evening and we were giving him a haircut," she said. "And when we lifted up his shirt, you could just see it plain as day, a hand print, in the shoulder, armpit area."

Janevski believed her son had been assaulted at school and called Goshen Township to file a police report.

"If I had left a hand print on him, someone would be investigating me as to why that happened," she said.

Kindergarten teachers at Mar-Cook Elementary indicated in Wyatt's personal log last April, "Wyatt had a good day!" But further and it ends with a meltdown in art class, with him kicking the wall, his lunch bucket, chairs, and his teachers, who took him to a designated calm down area.

"It has a desk in it. It's not a calm down room," she said. "It's a small area within a janitor closet-like space, maybe a walk-in closet. It was pretty small."

Goshen Superintendent Darrell Edwards, who declined an on-camera interview sent this statement Oct. 18 which read,  "No there is no calm down closet.  There is a calm down area in a room, for when on the rare occasion, students are experiencing distress where they may harm themselves or others and can deescalate and return to class."

FOX19 NOW offered Edwards an opportunity to show the calming room and explain how it's benefits both students and the teachers since they have one, but Edwards declined.

"When I called the Ohio Department Of Education, they said that they weren't regulated," said Janevski.
In guidelines they adopted back in 2013  the Ohio Department Of Education said,  "Restraint or seclusion shall not occur, except when there is an immediate physical harm to the student or others."

Ohio Code dictates, "A room or area must provide adequate space, lighting, ventilation, clear visibility and the safety of the student and not be locked."

There are no specifics on size.

In Janevski's police report, it said it took two teachers holding him underneath his arms and another holding his legs. Principal Troy Smith had to step in as well. "Had to hold him so he wouldn't throw himself on the ground and hurt himself," the report stated.

"They just went to the calm down room with me in their hands," said Wyatt.

He is a shy and gifted now 7-year-old, who taught himself to read, while in the hospital fighting, then surviving lymphoma.

So it was no surprise when asked him what he wants to be when he grows up, he enthusiastically answered, "a surgeon!"

His mom said, as long as calm down rooms exist, the standards need to be set higher.

"They need to come up with something better," she said. "When you're working with an ADHD child, you have to make sure that they hear you, he probably didn't hear. You've got to make eye contact. Sometimes, I make him repeat what I said."

In the end, police dismissed the case after investigating, the report stating, "Staff members were trying to prevent an out of control child from hurting himself or others."

In the extreme Kentucky case involving restraint litigation is still pending, after the boy, diagnosed with ADHD, was shackled for 15 minutes in handcuffs in Latonia. Also, a 9-year-old girl was restrained at John Carlisle Elementary. It triggered outrage and a lawsuit, which is about to go to trial.

Both Ohio and Kentucky's regulations on calming or seclusion rooms are pretty vague. They're a little more detailed when it comes to restraining children.

Wyatt's in a new school in a new district and seems to be doing better this year at school. A trial date for the lawsuit in Covington is expected any day now.

FOX19 NOW offered Covington Schools a chance to comment on the positive things that have happened since the lawsuit, but they declined to be interviewed.

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