A Queen Creek charter school plopped a 5-year-old in a folding chair outdoors Monday during a heat advisory when he wouldn’t stop crying, and now school officials are being investigated for child abuse.
Liz Baker said she was outraged to find out her kindergarten son, Ted, was placed outside by the principal at Patriot Academy charter school in Monday’s heat to isolate him from noncrying students. The boy was monitored from inside the office, the school said.
“He’s got separation anxiety like so many kids have,” Baker said. “Basically he was crying. And they felt he was too loud.”
Paige Bruns, co-owner of the Last Chance Salon two doors down in the same small San Tan Center mall, said she heard the boy’s cries at 8:15 a.m. Monday, just after the first day of school began at the 2-year-old traditional school.
Walking outside the shop from time to time, Bruns said she, her nail technician and a customer saw the red-faced boy — alone — turning toward the school’s front door, screaming.
“He was crying out for his mom, and begging to please let him in,” said Bruns, whose technician recognized Ted as the son of Baker, who was a client. The boy was taken in at about 8:45 a.m., Bruns said, just as she decided to approach the principal.
The chair sat facing San Tan Boulevard where vehicles pulled in and out doing business at other stores, she said. The National Weather Service reports it was about 86 degrees at the time. A heat advisory issued for Monday cautioned that time outside should be restricted, and children should be kept in the shade and have water.
“The fact that he was left outside in a public place is an outrage,” Baker said. “Anyone could have pulled up, snatched him, and driven away.”
The Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office and the Arizona Board of Charter Schools are investigating after Baker filed a complaint.
Sheriff spokeswoman Lisa Allen MacPherson said the school reports he was out no longer than 10 minutes and was in shade, while witnesses, including Bruns, say it could have been as long as 30 minutes.
MacPherson said the school tried to contact the parents before putting him outside. In response to the complaint, the sheriff’s office is investigating the school for child abuse.
“Someone was monitoring the child always. He suffered no injury,” MacPherson said. “I don’t know if it fits the parameters of child abuse or whether it is just a case of bad judgment.”
Principal Jay Brown said he could not give detailed information about the incident because federal laws protect the privacy of children, but he said children have never been left unattended at his school, and said the situation may have been misunderstood.
The school of 60 students uses partitions as walls, so a screaming child disrupts every class, Brown said. The school has been looking for a new location with more space, he said.
For now, placing a disruptive child outside, and supervised with an adult either at their side or watching from inside, is the only way to deal with an out-of-control child, Brown said.
“I certainly would never put a student outside in the heat of the day, or where they would be at risk,” Brown said. “We just handle discipline issues the best way we see fit.
“I can tell you anytime a child is outside, there is an adult there, physically or within reach of the student,” he said. “If we had done something so inappropriate, why was the child back in school today?”
Saying she wanted to keep Ted in the school’s traditional program because she likes the teachers, Baker took her son back to the school Tuesday, where he was sent home almost immediately for crying again.
The school issued a discipline notice to Ted’s parents for a disruption of the learning process and insubordination.
A school form reports that on Monday a teacher brought Ted to the principal’s office after he would not stop crying for his mother. At that point, the report states that Brown “brought out a seat to make Teddy comfortable,” and that Brown later “stated that he was stepping inside to wait for Teddy to stop crying, and when he stopped he could come in.” The report says he was outside five minutes.
Baker said she will transfer her son to a public school this week.
“It’s a shame,” she said. “The school is absolutely fabulous, and he tends to be a really smart kid. He doesn’t want to go to school now.”