Alberta’s Education Minister David Eggen is moving to ban school seclusion rooms following reports from parents who say their children with special needs suffered emotional and physical trauma from being restrained or confined.
In an e-mail on Friday to a government-appointed panel of experts studying the use of seclusion rooms, Mr. Eggen said he will be issuing a ministerial order shortly and that all school seclusion rooms must be decommissioned by the coming academic year.
“I am deeply concerned by some of the things that parents and students are sharing about their family’s experiences with seclusion rooms. We can and must do better for our kids,” Mr. Eggen said in the e-mail.
A recent analysis of survey data by Inclusion Alberta, a group that advocates on behalf of people with developmental disabilities, found more than half of parents in the province said their children with special needs were restrained at school or confined in seclusion rooms. The survey of nearly 400 families included voices of parents who spoke of the trauma their children experienced. Some said they turned to home-schooling their children.
The rooms can be used to give out-of-control child a place to calm down or as a punishment for their behaviour.
Barb McIntyre, president of Inclusion Alberta and a parent of a son with developmental disabilities, said her organization was pleased Mr. Eggen listened to parents and students.
“He is to be commended for taking action on behalf of students who often are perceived to have no voice,” she said. “This is a day to be celebrated as it will no longer be possible for young children to be locked in solitary confinement when at school, or for their parents to be filled with worry when they send their children to school.”
Mr. Eggen had announced the expert panel last fall to draft new guidelines and identify best practices on how schools should use seclusion rooms, restraint and timeouts.
The issue came to the forefront after a lawsuit was launched last year by parents Marcy Oakes and Warren Henschel in Sherwood Park, who said their 12-year-old son with autism was stripped naked and locked in a school isolation room, where he was found covered in his own feces.
None of the allegations have been proven in court.
Mr. Eggen said in the e-mail that the ministry will have mechanisms in place to ensure seclusion rooms are out of use, which could include requiring school districts to sign a declaration.
Alberta Premier Rachel Notley said seclusion rooms have no place in the province’s schools.
“We know that there has been a lot of consultation with experts in the field and our understanding was that seclusion rooms needed to be banned, all along,” she told reporters in Calgary at an unrelated event.
“Now it’s going to be a question of working with school boards to ensure that they have what they need top ensure safety of other students and of staff. But the use of seclusion rooms is just not something that I can personally accept.”
Several provinces have struggled with including children with severe developmental disabilities in regular classrooms, even as they’ve moved toward a model of inclusive education over the past few decades.
In its latest report, released last year, People for Education, an Ontario advocacy group, noted an increase in the number of elementary and secondary school principals who report recommending a special-education student stay home for at least part of a day. The organization found 58 per cent of elementary school heads and 48 per cent of high school principals made the request, up from 48 per cent and 40 per cent, respectively, in 2014.
And another advocacy group, Inclusion B.C., published a report of what it described as “disturbing practices,” including a student left in seclusion for more than three hours and others restrained with straps or cuffs.
With a report from James Keller in Calgary