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Controversial ‘Time-Out Room’ Principal Files Lawsuit Against Syracuse School District

Laura Vieira-Suarez

Former LeMoyne Elementary School principal Laura Vieira-Suarez has become known as the “time-out room principal” in Syracuse, where she was fired for allegedly locking a student inside an illegal time-out room. A Syracuse school district investigation found Vieira-Suarez responsible for the incident, and she was indicted on a perjury charge for misleading a grand jury.

However, the perjury charge has been dismissed twice, and Vieira-Suarez has never been convicted of a crime. Now, in a new lawsuit, Vieira-Suarez claims she’s being used as a scapegoat in a botched investigation that “was haphazard, unprofessional and very unfair.”

The issue of schools using seclusion and restraint tactics on young children has become highly controversial, and for good reason. These techniques can cause severe injuries to young people and are often discussed using vague euphemisms, like “therapeutic hold” and “time-out rooms.” Critics argue that forcibly restraining and isolating a child is cruel and unusual punishment, a clear-cut case of child abuse.

Many parents have called for these practices to be banned outright, especially following a 2014 ProPublica investigation into violent “scream rooms” that sparked national outrage. Yet educators who use seclusion and restraint say that they’re widely misunderstood by those who have never witnessed violent student behavior firsthand. In a study from the Fraser Institute, 72% of private school parents strongly agreed that their school was safe, but seclusion proponents argue that in extreme cases physical restraint is sometimes necessary to protect disturbed students.

Writer and educator Fredrik Deboer described his own heartbreaking experiences with seclusion and restraint in 2014, writing:

“I have seen kids go from seeming calm to punching other kids repeatedly in the back of the head without warning. The self-harm was even worse…I saw a student try to cut his own lip with safety scissors. I saw a girl tear padding from a padded wall and eat it; when she eventually had to be removed from the school via ambulance, she urinated on herself, rubbed her face with her urine, and attempted to do the same to paramedics.

Mental illness is powerful and terrible and that’s the world we live in.

Part of the response to this kind of behavior was restraint. I didn’t enjoy doing it; none of the staff did. Hated it, in fact…The only alternative was to allow that child to badly hurt another or him- or herself. If you think that a 7 year old is incapable of badly harming another person, I assure you, you’re wrong.”

And according to Vieira-Suarez’s lawsuit, the LeMoyne Elementary School staff was dealing with such a case of extreme behavior.

The lawsuit claims that “His documented behavior included running throughout the school and hiding wherever he can; screaming, cursing, and dumping over trash cans, physically and without provocation attacking younger students; hitting a pregnant teacher in the abdomen, slamming doors to classrooms; throwing wastebaskets; climbing on stair railings; banging on windows and walls; scratching the face of staff members; and picking, punching and tantruming on an almost daily basis.”

In New York State, schools and teachers may “Authorize the limited use of unlocked time out rooms where a student is observed by staff at all times when a student needs an area to safely deescalate, regain control and prepare to meet expectations to return to his or her education program.” Additionally, in extreme cases, school staff may “Authorize the use of reasonable physical force, including the use of physical restraints.”

As the former principal continues with an appeal of the criminal charges stemming from the incident, the school district will now have to contend with the civil lawsuit.