She admits Dylan Gale acts out by making strange noises and can react violently if he feels trapped. The eight-year-old has obsessive-compulsive disorder and oppositional defiant disorder and is waiting for an assessment for autism.
At the suggestion of his school, Ms. Shippien agreed that her son could occasionally be put in a time-out room. But the mother in Windsor, about 65 kilometres northwest of Halifax, didn't know what school officials had in mind.
"It was a storage room, a closet. They basically converted this room to be a small area [where] Dylan could be put," she said yesterday, estimating the space at one square metre.
"When you open the door, you see a small area built out of gym mats. He had been confined in this little tiny area, alone."
Ms. Shippien said that her mother, on a visit to Windsor Elementary School last Thursday, heard Dylan "screaming and hollering" in the room. The boy hasn't been to school since, and his mother is hoping to meet with board officials today to explore better ways of dealing with his behaviour.
Margo Tait, superintendent of schools for the Annapolis Valley Regional School Board, acknowledged that the situation is not acceptable, telling the Halifax Chronicle-Herald that the school's room will be changed to meet board guidelines for time-out rooms. She did not return a call yesterday seeking clarification on what those guidelines are.
School boards have wide discretion when handling such situations. Canada has no overarching standards related to time-outs for students, education and parenting experts say, although several added that this school's approach is unusual.
"It's the first time I've heard of this kind of incident," said Bernie Froese-Germain, a researcher with the Canadian Teachers' Federation.
"Obviously, it's appalling that this kind of thing could go on."
An expert in child protection said that adults imposing time-outs have to be careful to use them to instill discipline instead of inflicting punishment.
"The school needs to have a look around at what other options they have before constructing a chamber like this," said Rod Ensom, former co-ordinator of the Child and Youth Protection Program at the Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario, now a consultant with Ensom and Associates.
"What you're describing strikes me as crossing the line into punishment. Surely there is someplace to which this child can be removed where he will not be so tightly confined."
The boy's mother made a similar point.
"I'm not asking them to allow my son to run wild," Ms. Shippien said. "But my son perceives this as punishment, that he's bad. He doesn't view it as a safe place where he can go to calm down. It only further agitates him."