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Teacher on leave amid dispute over autistic boy sitting in a box

February 28, 2012 |  8:46 am

A Riverside County teacher is on leave after placing austic boy in cardboard box
A Riverside County teacher is on administrative leave after allegedly having a 10-year-old autistic boy sit inside a cardboard box.

The boy's mother, Kim Rollins, has filed an administrative legal claim against the district and the teacher, a likely precursor to a lawsuit. The claim alleges that the isolation was involuntary, punitive and caused other fellow students to ridicule her son.

"I was outraged. I was insulted," Rollins said from her home in Wildomar, near Lake Elsinore. "I cried when I heard."

Ronald Reagan Elementary School Principal Nori Chandler told a Riverside County Sheriff's Department investigator last month that Sage Rollins went into a closet on his own, when he wanted "quiet time," and was never sent by the teacher. Sage also told the deputy he went on his own when he needed a quiet place.

The principal told the investigator that a district counselor provided a "decorated large cardboard box" for Sage that was placed in the back of the class, to provide a refuge for him when he had sensory overload, according to the investigative report, a copy of which Kim Rollins gave The Times.

In an interview with The Times, Sage said he found comfort in the darkness and isolation of the box.

"In the big box, I got to do so much relaxing in there," he told The Times. "I bring my jacket, a blanket. Some cushy things."

But his mother said Sage told her that the teacher had sent him to the closet or box for "time-outs or when she was mad." She also said that her son went into the closet or box on his own as well.

"If he can get away from the person who is creating a meltdown for him, he would run and hide in the dryer," Rollins said, not being literal. "So the fact that he thinks the closet is a good thing, it means nothing to me."

A Riverside County sheriff's deputy who investigated the allegations "failed to find any evidence of criminal wrongdoing," and the case has been closed, said Deputy Joshua Morales, a spokesman for the Sheriff's Department. The investigator's report said there did not appear to be any intent by any school employee to mistreat or abuse Sage.


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-- Phil Willon in Riverside County

Photo: Kim Rollins with her 10-year-old son Sage Rollins, who has been diagnosed with an autism-related disorder. Credit: Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times