On Your Side: "Opportunity Rooms"

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A concrete room, four feet wide, with a small window in the door.

We're describing a room where some misbehaving Columbia County school students are sent.

12 On Your Side's Ryan Duffy takes a closer look.

School administrators call these rooms "opportunity rooms", and they're used district-wide.

The one News 12 saw May 18 was concrete and wood, four by six, with a small window in the door.

The schools say it's just one option for dealing with misbehaving kids.

Jennifer Windham has had kids in Columbia County schools for three years.

But this week was the first time she saw an opportunity room while she was on a tour of her son's school, Westmont Elementary in Martinez.

"Looking at my coffee table, maybe a little bigger," Jennifer says. "Looked like solitary confinement, or a cellblock, very disturbing."

She says she was shocked to see a small bare room used for misbehaving students.

"Putting them in isolation is harmful, I think especially when it's not safe...two concrete walls they could hit their head on," Jennifer says.

Westmont principal Tami Flowers gave News 12 an up close look at the room.

She says the school built the four by six foot room this semester to "help" misbehaving students have a place where they can calm down.

"We call parents when we use the room, let them know every step of the way," Flowers says. Myself and my assistant monitor the room and the child the entire time."

To help see it and give another perspective we recreated a room with walls just four feet apart.

An adult wouldn't be able to extend their arms, or with the length, lay down. With a child it's not much better.

"It's really something that has been helpful for some children, rare cases," Flowers says.

"Are other parents aware of this?" Jennifer asks. "All I want is the room to be safe, if it's going to be used, and notify parents it's there."

Principal Flowers says the room has only been used four times this semester and always with the parents knowing about it first.

She says it's safe because it's always supervised and children aren't in there more than 15 minutes at a time.

The superintendent of Columbia County Schools, Tommy Price, tells News 12 that opportunity rooms are in fact in most of the county's 16 elementary schools.

He says the "behavior modification" rooms are safe and useful and that most parents are aware of them.