Milton mother says school principal locked 7-year-old in closet

District says no policies were violated

A 7-year-old student started at a new school in the Milton district Thursday after his mother said the principal at Milton West Elementary locked him in a closet as a form of punishment.

Nicole Johnson said she didn’t want to use her son’s name but said he told her Principal Marcia Schwengels locked him in a closet Tuesday for throwing Play-Doh.

Johnson said her son told her his class was playing with Play-Doh, and he took his friend’s Play-Doh because his was hard and the friend’s was soft. The teacher tried to take the Play-Doh, but the boy didn’t want to give it up.

“From there, he said the teacher called the principal. She came instantly, grabbed him by the arm, pulled him down the hallway. He keeps saying, ‘She kept going so fast, I couldn’t keep up, but she was holding on to my arms so I couldn’t let go,'” Johnson said.

She said she didn’t believe her son at first, but he told another trusted adult about the incident Wednesday. At that point, Johnson said she asked her mom to go to West Elementary and talk to the principal. During their conversation, Johnson said Schwengels showed her mom the closet where the first grader was put for throwing Play-Doh.

“You don’t do that to children. It traumatizes them. It breaks relationships with the adult, breaks trust with the adult,” Johnson said.

She said she contacted the Milton Police Department, but there was nothing officers could do because the incident wasn’t considered criminal.

Johnson said she also met with Superintendent Tim Schigur and Director of Student Services Susan Probst on Wednesday and had a long discussion.

According to district policy 5630.01 , teachers are allowed to use seclusion and physical restraint with students, but “only when the student’s behavior presents a clear, present and imminent risk to the physical safety of the student or others.” The policy also states seclusion can only be used if “no door connecting the seclusion room or area to other rooms or areas is capable of being locked.”

Milton mother says school principal locked 7-year-old in closet

According to the policy, the principal or his/her designee should notify the student’s parents or guardian when seclusion or physical restraint is used as soon as practicable but no later than one business day after the incident.

Johnson said she was never notified by the school district. She only knew about the incident because her son told her.

“The school is going against policies, and they’re doing things that I know 99 percent of parents don’t know about,” Johnson said. “This policy wasn’t part of the student handbook. It’s hidden on the website.”

Johnson said after district officials discussed the incident, they decided to send her son to a different elementary school in the district. The first grader started at his new school Thursday.

“I told him, ‘I want you to be excited about this new school. I want you to be excited about this fresh start with a teacher who is so excited to have you,'” Johnson said.

In an emailed statement, the district said officials legally cannot comment on confidential student issues but said “we have conducted an administrative review of the incident. The review found that no violations of Board policy took place and that staff actions were supported by Board policy and the District’s legal counsel. As a result of the administrative review, we have made some immediate adjustments to current practices that are designed to improve safe learning experiences for all our students.”

Milton mother says school principal locked 7-year-old in closet

Johnson posted about the experience on Facebook Wednesday afternoon and by Thursday evening, the post had been shared nearly 450 times. Johnson said her goal in posting about the incident wasn’t to draw attention to her son, but to show the community how she says the district is violating policies.

Johnson said she had received several responses from parents who said they’ve experienced something similar but haven’t spoken up.

She said she is meeting with the principal at her son’s new school Friday to talk about his fresh start.