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Ashton mum fuming after non-verbal son, 8, is "zipped up in a tent" at school

A mum from Ashton has been left devastated after finding out her eight-year-old son was being "zipped up" in a tent at school.

Carla Feno said Rocco, who is also non-verbal and autistic, had been presenting with challenging behaviours back in September 2023 and to manage this, he had been "zipped into" a "safe space tent" by staff at Oakdale Primary School in Dukinfield.

"The thought of my little boy being zipped up when he's in crisis, unable to reach out to his peers or communicate for help haunts me. Imagine being that little boy in there all alone unable to unzip it or ask to get out. It breaks my heart," Carla said.

In January 2023, she was shown the safe space and asked to consent to the use of it "in a positive way" for Rocco to rough play. To this, she consented.

Since the new school year and change of teacher in September 2023, she learned the safe space wasn't being used for the intentions she initially consented to and had been led to believe it was meant for.

"I was not consulted on this change of use, and this has now left me questioning if I could have signed the consent form under false pretences. The space was now being used for Rocco to access in crisis."

Carla immediately raised her concerns regarding this and challenged the school on the conflicting use. She contacted staff via the online platform Dojo, asking that the space was not used any more and requested to see records of why, when and how long the space had been used for. She claimed that this wasn't acknowledged nor provided.

She then requested to view the space as she had only "negative visions and opinions" of it and wanted to see the area "for peace of mind".

She added: "I appreciate some parents may welcome the concept, but it really haunts me and causes me anxiety. I feel its barbaric and institutionalised and no one can really say what impact it has on my non-verbal son, who cannot tell us."

When Rocco was moved into an alternative class prior to the October half term, it was agreed that he would not access the safe space anymore however on return to school, Carla learnt that it was still being used. She instructed the school not to use it as his behaviour "seemed to heighten" the more it was used, with her regularly being called to come and collect him.

She reportedly called the school to complain and was told by a member of staff that this was a miscommunication and she thought the new teacher had been informed.

After attending a parent's evening on October 22, Carla noticed the safe space had been relocated into Rocco's classroom but her son was unable to tell her what was occurring at the time, however she felt his change in behaviour was "an indication". She described him being dysregulated and often hitting out or getting upset on the bus to school.

She said: "He was clearly trying to communicate something. I viewed the space and the Headteacher assured me it was never zipped up but weeks later, on an occasion where it was used, something just made me ask the teacher if it was zipped up and she said it was.

"I instantly broke down crying. He was unable to get out and it was against my consent and a deprivation of his liberty to freedom."

Rocco enjoys being active, with a particular love for trampolining and swimming. He also loves Peppa Pig and playing with his older brother Luca, who Carla said he has the "most amazing" bond with.

Since the incident in December, Rocco has not attended the school and has been out of education, however he has secured a place at another school within Tameside for this coming September which his mum has said will have to be a "very slow and careful" transition as he'll have been out of school for ten months by this point.

"Massive failures have been allowed to happen at the expense of my son," Carla continued.

"Policies, training, risk assessments are all in place now and the zip has been taken off. All because of Roccos experience. These should have been in place before so he didn't have to experience that. This is a special school with trained teachers who get funding for all children."

Carla added: "I feel extremely proud that I have managed to change all this for the sake of other children, and I have been assured by the local authority that no other child will go through what Rocco did and they think I have advocated immensely for him.

"An apology will never compensate for what my child endured, but the main thing is that I unfolded it all and stopped it happening any longer.

"It has had a huge effect on him and has taken me months to get him back to the happy boy he is. It's not easy, I'm a single parent alone and it's had a massive effect on my mental health too and deeply upset his big brother."

An Oakdale Primary School spokesperson said: “We can’t comment on an individual case, but the safety of our pupils is of the upmost importance to the school.

"The school works with parents and partner agencies to agree individual health and care plans tailored for the needs for each child and if parents ever have concerns about the plans or care of their child these concerns will be investigated and addressed as a priority, working with everyone involved.”

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