One-man protest against a school’s approach to mental health

Since late January, a man in Superior, Wis., has been protesting the local school’s “de-escalation room,” a room where some of the school’s special needs students can go when things get tense for them.

Northern Lights Elementary School officials say the room acts as a “calming room” until a child can return to class and carry on.

“They want to be left alone, and that’s really not unlike us as adults,” Principal Robyn Deshayes tells WDIO. “If we’re going to have an emotional breakdown, we’re not going to want to be in a public place with people staring at us.”

But Damon Hicks, who has no kids in the school, tells the TV station that it’s a bad idea.

He reaches into the last century to characterize the problem.

“If the kid is too mental, give him three strikes,” Hicks said. “And if he’s that mental, he’s going to keep doing it anyway, so he don’t need to be in that school.”

This is what used to be common terminology for people with mental health issues, and for the most part we’ve moved to a more sane approach, as evidenced by the principal’s reaction to the protest.

“I’m glad that people are talking about it and asking,” she said. “But really, the bigger question is, what’s happening with our children with the severity of mental health needs that we’re seeing?”

She says he hopes the conversation sparks a look at inadequate mental health treatment for kids in northern Wisconsin.

  • John

    So, what is Hicks basing his opinion on? I see the school’s reasoning spelled out pretty clearly in the Duluth Trib article. I don’t see anything beyond Hicks’ assertion that the room is a bad idea. No reason why, no explanation at all – it’s a bad idea.

    Cynical as I am, I’m still inclined to go with the school on this one. They have some evidence and clear reasoning to explain the room (as well as apparently a clear set of guidance on how the room is and is not to be used). Hicks just has an opinion, with no apparent reason to back it up.

  • Rob

    “…he don’t need to be in that school.” Nice. Maybe Hicks was absent from school on the day when don’t/doesn’t was being taught.

  • Anna

    There is probably a small percentage of these children who act out because that is the only way they can GET attention whether that is from their parents or their teachers.

    We no longer live in a society where the man is the breadwinner and the woman is the homemaker and stays home full time with the children.

    What we have to ask is are we opening up these kids to bullying because they can’t “handle” a regular classroom setting?

    What happens after high school when they get to college? College doesn’t come with special rooms where they can have a meltdown. The standard workplace doesn’t work that way either.

    We’ve seen all too often what results when workers with mental illness don’t get the help they need once they are beyond the safe confines of a school.

    We talk about it a lot but we don’t seem to be making any progress on the mental health front. No one seems to do anything until a tragedy occurs.

    • (blink blink)

      They’re just acting out to get attention? I don’t hardly.

      News Tribune: “”This is not about students who are just misbehaving,” Deshayes said. “There are psychological reasons some children’s brains can’t process information the same way others can.”

      She listed chemical dependency by parents while pregnant as one of the causes.

      • lindsayinMPLS

        Trauma and adverse experiences impacts brain development during childhood. For some kids, their brains are wired to respond from a place of fear and stress, and they can’t turn it off. It’s like you’re constantly in fight or flight mode.

      • Anna

        Yes, Bob. They do act out because even negative attention is better than none. Notice I said “a small percentage.” I probably should have clarified that further. It’s probably closer to less than 1 percent.

        I ran across a child like this at the pre-school level. The paraprofessionals there told me his older brother was a great kid and had no emotional problems.

        Then the parents divorced and the mother had to go to work. Mom’s tired, just wants to chill out when she gets home. She no longer has the energy she once did when she was at home with the kids.

        The younger kid is labeled EBD and put in a special classroom when really it is a family issue. That label will follow him for the rest of his school days.

        Recent warnings by the medical community have just come out that that state no amount of alcohol is considered safe in pregnancy but pregnant women are going to drink anyway. “Oh! One drink can’t hurt.” Then the child has to live with those consequences.

        It is in the early stages of pregnancy where most of the damage to the fetus occurs and most women don’t realize they are pregnant for at least 4-6 weeks.

        The kids who are victims of fetal alcohol syndrome and drug addiction at birth are the saddest cases of all. Their mothers made a bad choice. It is true, they can’t process information like a child who was not exposed to alcohol and drugs in the womb.

        Is it fair to the “normal” kids to have their learning time disrupted by a student who can’t process normally because this is what happens when you “mainstream” special needs children.

        I’m just saying….

        • Jon E.

          So your point is that when the majority of women didn’t work, children didn’t have disabilities? Or that students with disabilities should be sequestered away from the rest of the population?

          I’ll just leave a few points here:
          -Part of the reason we have more students diagnosed with disabilities is because we have gotten better at identification of disabilities. The key now is to make sure that we are not disproportionately representing any group of students in diagnoses of a given disorder.
          -Behavior disorders have environmental triggers, think soldiers coming back with PTSD and actually, these two disorders share a lot of similarities. The student you reference could very well develop EBD due to the divorce of his parents. Parents are the focal point of a child’s life and divorce can be traumatic.
          -Behavioral disorders are on a spectrum and a major component of educating students with disabilities is helping them learn strategies and coping skills and the best place for that is in the highest classroom setting that they can handle because it’s just like the real world.
          -Segregating students with disabilities is a bad idea. Once upon a time (right around the time women weren’t allowed to work), we locked up people with disabilities in institutions for their entire lives. Research shows that diverse classrooms are better for kids because they teach them soft skills. Students who interact with other students that have disabilities are more empathetic and compassionate. Two things that our world could use more of.

          • Suzanne


          • Fred, Just Fred

            What research are you citing?

          • Jon E.

            Here are three peer-reviewed journal articles that get at my points regarding research. The other pieces that I discussed are easily found on Google.
            I would politely ask you not to describe an illness as mentally disturbed as you did in your comment above. It is dehumanizing and divisive to anyone that struggles with a mental illness.

            A lot of this is behind paywall but the study by Katz and Mirenda is readily available:
            Belland, B. R., Glazewski, K. D., & Ertmer, P. A. (2009). Inclusion and problem-based learning: Roles of students in a mixed-ability group. RMLE Online: Research in Middle Level Education, 32(9), 1-19.

            MacFarlane, K., & Woolfson, L. M. (2013). Teacher attitudes and behavior toward the inclusion of children with social, emotional and behavioral difficulties in mainstream schools: An application of the theory of planned behavior. Teaching and Teacher Education, 29(0), 46-52.

            Katz, J., & Mirenda, P. (2002). Including students with developmental disabilities in general classrooms: Social benefits. International Journal of Special Education, (17) 2, 26.

          • Anna

            Why is it everyone wants to turn young kids into “mini-adults?”

            Frankly, I don’t think young children should be exposed to students with feeding tubes and tracheostomy tubes in the primary grade setting. It’s a parent’s job to explain to the child why the little girl in the mall is in a wheelchair and has a tube to breathe and to do it when the encounter occurs in terms the child can understand depending on age.

            It’s a parent’s job to make sure their child has opportunities to develop the “soft skills” but judging from the various articles I’ve read from the New York Times to NBC News, parents aren’t doing a very good job of it because the biggest complaint employers have is that the younger workers do not have or have not developed those “soft skills.”

            I agree with Fred just Fred that the disintegration of the nuclear family is adding to the problem.

            I never said that women who stayed at home with their children did not have children with disabilities. Dyslexia wasn’t even a diagnosis when I was in elementary school but I am sure some of my classmates who had extreme difficulty reading probably had it. The thinking back then was to teach the learning disabled in separate classrooms to be with peers with the same disability to avoid the stigma and “labeling” that has become so prevalent in education today.

            Tell me that diverse classrooms having students with disabilities teach empathy and compassion ten years from now after SnapChat, Facebook and texting become the norm for communicating.

            I guess instead of “Look at me when I’m talking to you!” will become “Answer me when I’m texting you!”

          • Kassie

            God, I don’t think children should have to be exposed to insensitive jerks like you.

            “I don’t think young children should be exposed to students with feeding tubes and tracheostomy tubes in the primary grade setting.” All children deserve a good integrated education. This is no different than not wanting to have your children around black students because race should be discussed when you run into a black kid in a mall, not in the classroom.

      • Suzanne

        Sometimes it is an inherited difference (Autism Spectrum, Mental Illness) that the child has. There should be places for these kids to decompress. And I do think as they get older, they learn to adapt, find “safe” places to take a time out from “The Stim” like a library.

        This man shows NO Compassion, nor does he understand…He hasn’t walked in THOSE shoes!

    • jon

      I had plenty of rooms on my college campus where I could go to be alone… study rooms in the library, dorm rooms, telephone/notetaking booths in hallways, and while not everyone could get to it we had a lovely room used to test audio and RF equipment that was both soundproof and sound deadening, when it was not in use you could go in there and scream as loud as you wanted, no one else would hear you, and you’d barely hear yourself…

      There are 3 such rooms within 100ft of my desk at work, and 16 or so more a short walk away… we call them “flex rooms.” last 3 or 4 offices I’ve been in have had some form of this…

      Sure these spaces aren’t dedicated for mental breakdowns, but they all work for that purpose…

  • Leann Olsen

    Just as with the school holiday debate here is someone with all of the hateful opinions and no kids at the school.

  • Kassie

    The State of Minnesota was sued for having isolation as a form of treating behavior problems in the State Hospitals and other facilities, along with restraints and many other issues. I’ve had to go through training, even though I don’t work with clients or patients, about appropriately dealing with outbursts for people with mental health and developmental disabilities. It was very clear removing them from a group setting and putting them in an isolation room is not ok.

    This lawsuit means the State created something called “The Olmstead Plan” under court order and it carries across many different agencies including the Department of Education. From the Department of Education’s plan, “the 2015 Stakeholders Workgroup was charged with the “how” of reducing all restrictive procedures in the school setting; and specifically, moving toward the elimination of the use of seclusion in the school setting.” So while Wisconsin is doubling down on seclusion in schools, Minnesota is working to eliminate it.

    • This isn’t seclusion. Nor restraints. The door isn’t locked.

      Of course, Wisconsin was a state where workers basically killed a little girl for gargling milk.

      • Kassie

        How isn’t putting someone in a private room away from others not seclusion? From the article the district administrator says, ” When we have learners that are that high level of need that they need to be restrained or have some seclusion, we follow (state Department of Public Instruction) guidelines to make sure that we do have a room that’s safe,” They even call it seclusion.

        • jon

          It’s a matter of definitions… one of the articles Bob links spells it out:
          “Seclusion in Duluth schools is defined as when a child is confined alone where the ability to exit is barred, such as by a closed or locked door.”

          But that clearly is not the definition being used in Superior.

          As an introvert I understand the need to occasionally remove oneself from a group setting, and I think giving students that option (which is also spelled out in the same article) is a brilliant idea.

    • Jeff C.

      It doesn’t sound to me that students will be removed from the group setting and put in the isolation room. It sounds like it is a place where a student can be by choice. There is no lock on the door. There is no minimum amount of time that they need to be in the room. I had a child who was in a classroom with a child who could have benefited from this type of a room. One time when the other child got upset the teacher removed all the other children from the classroom while the upset child ranted and raved (overturning desks and chairs in the process) alone in the classroom. It would have been safer for that student to go to a safe room instead of being alone in the classroom.

    • Suzanne

      In the case of kids who have an IEP, they might be pulled out of the classroom for “Stim Break” and brought down to the room designated for their particular disability. There is a teacher and/or an SEA in the room with the child. They aren’t isolated and alone. They get a chance to decompress with a staff member there, to help talk things out, and take a break and get help out of the thought (rigid thinking) that might have caused issues in the classroom, for example.

      For that matter, some classes are held in these rooms for kids who are lower functioning, or the regular classroom is too over stimulating. Classes are usually very small, just a few kids.

  • Fred, Just Fred

    what’s happening with our children with the severity of mental health needs that we’re seeing?

    Been askin it and askin it.

    I’ve heard the explanation that diagnosis is better, and I’ll buy that for subtle cases, but kids that have “mental breakdowns” as opposed to snit fits are not subtle cases.

    I’m not a psychiatrist, but one doesn’t need to be to observe the undeniable increase in mentally disturbed people running around on the streets and kids in schools.

    Personally, and admittedly with no data to back it up with, I do believe the disintegration of the nuclear family is playing a role.

    In any case, I do not see a benefit from keeping kids who are dealing with severe mental, emotional or physical issues mixed in with the mainstream class. Ive seen no evidence it helps the sufferer, and clearly robs the majority of the instruction time, resources and attention they deserve and we pay for.

    • jon

      “I’m not a psychiatrist, but one doesn’t need to be to observe the undeniable increase in mentally disturbed people running around on the streets and kids in schools.”

      I deny your undeniable assumption.
      Without a source it’s speculation… and without measures for “mentally disturbed” from the past matching those from the present it is hersay, observation basis means that observation is not a reliable methodology particularly over time given the fallibility of human memory and pattern recognition.

      For the record I was diagnosed with a learning disability as a child… the same one my father likely has though he remains undiagnosed. The reason I was diagnosed and he was not (and the reason why it took till I was in middle school rather than 2nd grade when the first teacher made comments about it) is because it wasn’t a diagnosable condition until ’94. Improved diagnosis is part of why I am where I am today. On more than one occasion my frustration at my condition lead to a point where I nearly snapped and had an outburst. Though I’m sure you’d consider my actual learning disorder to be subtle…

      The single largest problem I see with the education is the notion of this one size fits all education… It was getting worse throughout my childhood… and at I graduated highschool I watched as it reached new levels for my little brother…. Once I broke out of that cookie cutter mold (something I was only able to do with the diagnosis and the help of my parents fighting the school officials who didn’t think it was a real thing and continued to call me lazy) I was in a much better place to actually get an education rather than lessons in frustration…

      • Fred, Just Fred

        You evidently still have trouble paying attention to details. I clearly stated I was referring to kids with severe mental issues, not ADHD, or even mild autism (the increase of which is a completely separate issue).

        My observations are just as valid as anyone else’s. We read stories every day about the increasingly serious problems public schools are having to deal with. An estimated 20% of people who are incarcerated suffer from severe mental illness. It takes real effort not to see we have a problem.

        The White House occupant himself has identified mental illness as an issue America needs to get serious about dealing with (which proves the adage about even blind squirrels finding a nut).

        While, for the record, you offer nothing but personal anecdotes in support of it, your denial is noted.

        • jon

          “You evidently still have trouble paying attention to details.”

          I never said that I did in the first place… something you would have picked up if you cared to pay attention to details…. But go ahead pick on the person who just pointed out he had a learning disability on a public forum… hope it makes you feel like a big man.

          “I clearly stated I was referring to kids with severe mental issues, not ADHD, or even mild autism (the increase of which is a completely separate issue).”

          And I clearly stated:
          “On more than one occasion my frustration at my condition lead to a point where I nearly snapped and had an outburst. Though I’m sure you’d consider my actual learning disorder to be subtle…”

          See my first point (and then continue ignoring it.)

          “My observations are just as valid as anyone else’s.”

          I never suggested that everyone doesn’t suffer from observational basis… so you are correct, your’s is as valid as everyone else’s, but without facts and figures to support that every one’s observations are just that… and equally invalid.

          “The White House occupant himself has identified mental illness as an issue America needs to get serious about dealing with (which proves the adage about even blind squirrels finding a nut).”

          Given your history here on newscut you must be really desperate to go back to Obama as a source…

          Also your link talks about an issue that was written about nearly a decade ago, or nearly a decade after a massive shutdown in mental health institutions under the reagan administration, which doesn’t suggest that there is an increase in the number of people with mental health problems just that we shut down all the places where we were treating them….

      • Jerry

        Also there are the Rosemary Kennedy situations, where disruptive children were hidden away and institutionalized instead of actually being treated and socialized. That would make the problems more visible.