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‘Thinking room’ punishment leads to lawsuit

By Tom Gilchrist
For The Advertiser

BAY CITY — A federal lawsuit filed here by the mother of a Tuscola County boy alleges a former Mayville Elementary School principal repeatedly assaulted her son and “on each occasion imprisoned him” in a room at the school called the “thinking room.”

The mother claims Martin Blackmer and Mayville Community Schools discriminated against her son — age 7 at the time of the alleged assaults — and seeks a minimum of $75,000 in damages. The lawsuit filed April 1 in U.S. District Court describes the boy as “disabled” and states he was a special-education student before his mother removed him from Mayville schools on Oct. 21, 2011.

The lawsuit claims that, more than once, Blackmer accused the mother of “babying” her son and expressed doubt that the student’s behavior problems stem from his disabilities.

The Advertiser could not reach Blackmer or Mayville Superintendent Rhonda Blackburn for comment. Blackmer is no longer the school principal. No trial date has been set.

The lawsuit states the boy “has suffered from complex partial seizures” most of his life and was diagnosed with epilepsy in March of 2011. “At the onset of these seizures, (the youth) simply says ‘I have a bad feeling,'” according to the lawsuit.

The student also has been diagnosed with health problems including asthma and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, court documents state.

The lawsuit describes the “thinking room” or “stress reduction room” as a 5-by-6-foot “closet-like … small, padded seclusion room” with no furniture and a lone rectangular window at the top of the door but too high for any child to see out of it.  The mother maintains that after Blackmer placed her son in the room on two occasions in April and May of 2011, she told them not to place him there again.

The lawsuit claims that in the May incident, a teacher witnessed Blackmer “dragging” the mother’s son toward the stress-reduction room and that, on Oct. 21, 2011, Blackmer noticed the boy “allegedly misbehaving” in class and carried him to the thinking room. The lawsuit alleges Blackmer “forcibly threw” the student in the room and left him there “for hours.”

The lawsuit claims that after the mother came to school to pick up her son that day, she and one of her neighbors saw Blackmer open the door to the room and noticed the youth stick his foot in the opening in an apparent attempt to exit.

The mother claims she and her neighbor then witnessed Blackmer “forcibly closing the door on her son’s legs, compressing them between the wall and the force of Mr. Blackmer’s weight.” Court documents state that staff at a hospital reported the incident to police because of bruises on the boy’s legs, ankles and arms.

The lawsuit states the student’s mother believes a police investigation is pending, but claims Superintendent Blackburn told the mother that Principal Blackmer “was acting appropriately, as (the student) had been disruptive in the classroom.” The superintendent also wrote in a letter that the boy’s foot was never trapped in the door to the room, according to the lawsuit.

The student is now being home-schooled, and court documents claim that in January of 2011 — before any of the alleged incidents involving the 7-year-old boy — an employee of a federal Head Start program observed a 5-year-old child get locked in the stress-reduction room “unsupervised for an unsubstantiated and lengthy amount of time.” The Head Start worker reported the incident and use of the room to state child-protective services workers, the lawsuit states.

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