SILVER CREEK, NY (WIVB) – Children from kindergarten to second grade are being locked in what’s been described as an “isolation room” at Silver Creek Elementary School, a district administrator wrote in a letter to School Board members earlier this week.
The letter, which News 4 Investigates obtained, states that at least five students, including a kindergartner, have been “inhumanely and illegally locked or barricaded in an isolation cell.”
“I have been fighting all year to keep children out of the isolation cell,” wrote Jay Hall, the assistant director of elementary programming on March 28.
Hall describes the room as a “cold, cinder block jail-like cell,” and that, “It should never, even for one second, be used in any capacity to redirect or punish any child at any time.”
Hall goes onto say: “Children as young as 5 years old are being blockaded and locked in the isolation cell,
kicking the door, pounding on glass with their fists, banging their heads, crying profusely, pleading to be freed, all with complicit staff members standing by and watching.”
Parents got wind of the letter and started posting complaints on Facebook. At least four parents contacted News 4 Investigates with concerns about the isolation room and how the school district is handling the complaints.
On Wednesday, the school district issued a statement on its Facebook page and website, saying:
“The District is aware that this morning there were concerns raised on social media pertaining to our Elementary School. The District’s most important priority is the safety and security of all District students and staff. We take any concerns and allegations regarding student safety and their wellbeing as the top priority. The Board of Education received a multi-page letter yesterday, March 29, 2022 with several concerning allegations. The District engaged a third party, who immediately began and continues investigating the allegations set forth in the letter. Rest assured, that the District and Board of Education are engaging in a comprehensive and thorough investigation into this matter expeditiously. We will continue to inform the community with appropriate updates when the District is able to.”
Most of the comments are critical of the school system, with some parents expressing real anger over the situation.
“Let’s all keep our kids home until further investigation!!!” one parent wrote.
“You better pray we never find out that our son has ever been put in one of these so called cells!!” another parent wrote.
District Superintendent Todd A. Crandall, who did not want to do an interview, said that the School Board asked the law firm Webster Szanyi, which also acts as counsel for the board, to investigate the complaints. He hopes to have a report by the end of the week.
One parent said that these concerns are not new to school administrators.
Kerry Vasquezmarte said her special-needs daughter was locked in a room several times as a Pre-K pupil at the elementary school. She said a classmate witnessed her daughter being dragged by her arms through a hallway.
Vasquezmarte said her daughter cried when she confronted her about the incident and still has nightmares. She said she and a teacher met with Crandall over a year ago to discuss the isolation techniques.
“And all he did was blame my child during the meeting,” Vasquezmarte said. “And I said numerous times to get my child, I was taking her home, she’s not being locked in a room. It took me threatening him for him to finally radio down to wherever to retrieve my kid.”
Vasquezmarte said she eventually pulled her child out of Pre-K and homeschooled her during the kindergarten year. Her daughter is back at the elementary school for First Grade, with a “fantastic” teacher, Vasquezmarte said.
“I was only made aware of any concern on Friday, March 18,” Crandall said. “I can’t comment on something from years ago.”
Crandall said the law firm had an attorney on site Wednesday to conduct interviews. The attorney was also on school district property Thursday.
“We are not about hiding anything or trying to cover up anything,” Crandall said. “Student and staff safety is paramount, and we look forward to hearing the results so that if need be we can address any protocol or procedures as needed.”
The New York State Department of Education says it could not confirm or deny that the state was looking into these claims.
The Chautauqua County Sheriff’s Office said it is not investigating the claims at the school, saying no one has made a formal complaint.
Dan Telvock is an award-winning investigative producer and reporter who has been part of the News 4 team since 2018. See more of his work here and follow him on Twitter.
Jeff Preval is an award-winning anchor and reporter who joined the News 4 team in December 2021. See more of his work here.