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Alberta Premier Jason Kenney shakes hands with Adriana LaGrange, Minister of Education on April 30, 2019. LaGrange on Wednesday said schools must document all seclusion incidents, including details on attempts to de-escalate worrisome behaviour.

JASON FRANSON/The Canadian Press

Teachers in Alberta can only confine students to seclusion rooms in emergencies, when a child is on the verge of self-harm or endangering others, according to the Alberta government’s new rules governing controversial methods of addressing problematic classroom behaviour.

Alberta Education Minister Adriana LaGrange on Wednesday said schools must also document all seclusion incidents, including details on attempts to de-escalate worrisome behaviour. The guidelines take effect Nov. 1 and include standards for physical restraint.

The government, under the United Conservative Party, also released new expectations for time-outs in classrooms.

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The new standards are a compromise between the previous government’s order to ban seclusion rooms after some parents said the spaces were overused and traumatizing kids with special needs, and calls from some education organizations to keep them in place so teachers have a powerful tool available to control crisis situations.

Seclusion rooms must only be used to thwart dangerous situations rather than end disruptive behaviour, the government said. They must not be used to punish children.

“Seclusion rooms [must only be used] as a last resort,” Ms. LaGrange told reporters. “The standards provide requirements for schools [that] choose to use seclusion where a student’s behaviour poses significant, imminent danger of serious physical harm to themselves or to those around them."

Teachers must be trained before they can use seclusion rooms or physically restrain children, the government guidelines said. Parents, principals and superintendents must be notified as soon as possible when a teacher uses the measures, the government added. Further, all staff at the school must be debriefed within three days.

The government also outlines preventative measures, particularly for children with complex behaviours. For example, schools should develop crisis and safety plans for students who display signs that could potentially endanger themselves or others, and for children who do not respond to de-escalation techniques.

The students’ respective guardians must be involved in developing these plans and must provide consent. Further, the government recommends that the students who require seclusion and restraint plans should be involved in writing their respective road map, when appropriate.

The New Democratic Party, when it held power, ordered an end to seclusion rooms. The ban was scheduled to take effect in September. The UCP, elected in April, nixed the ban at the end of August.

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Seclusion rooms attracted attention after Marcy Oakes and Warren Henschel, parents of a 12-year-old with autism, claimed their son was stripped of his clothes, locked in a room and found covered in his feces. They sued; the allegations have not been tested in court.

Trish Bowman, chief executive officer of Inclusion Alberta, said she’s pleased the government is putting in clear guidelines designed to limit the use of seclusion rooms and to track the practice.

“This is the first time in Alberta that we have actually had clear and enforceable standards for the use of seclusion and restraint,” Ms. Bowman said. “The standards are pretty clear – it’s only to be used in the event of an emergency and an emergency is clearly defined. So multiple emergencies in any school or with any one child is an indication that something isn’t working.”

Ms. Bowman said her group’s ultimate goal is to end the use of seclusion rooms. Still, she said the new policy is better than the previous government’s attempt to ban seclusion rooms because that policy allowed entire school boards to apply for exemptions.

Inclusion Alberta, which lobbies for people with developmental disabilities, previously determined more than half of parents who have children with special needs in Alberta said their children were restrained or restricted to seclusion rooms at school. The group reviewed survey data including roughly 400 families.

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