Province releases guidelines on seclusion in schools as Salmon Arm boy’s story fuels debate

SALMON ARM – The province has just released guidelines around the use of seclusion and restraint in B.C. schools as a complaint from a Shuswap family gains growing attention.

The debate concerns when and if kids should be sent to quiet rooms (also called calming rooms) and it has put a seven year old Salmon Arm boy named Deacon in the spotlight.

Deacon’s mother, Jackie Graham, doesn’t like the idea of her son, who is living with Down syndrome, or any student being put in such a room.

“I don’t think this is an appropriate measure to use with children,” she says. “I find it’s comparable to solitary confinement.”

Graham says Deacon spent time in the small room on many occasions in late September.

“It was if he misbehaved he was put in that room, so really it’s been used as a form of punishment,” she says.

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Graham had temporarily pulled Deacon from school because of her concerns about the use of a quiet room.

“I just felt that we as his parents couldn’t continue to send him to school knowing that this is how he is being treated,” she says.

The school district paints a different picture of the way calming rooms are used. The North Okanagan-Shuswap School District’s director of student learning, Morag Asquith, says calming rooms are viewed as a method of self regulation and are not seen as a punishment.

“They are seen as an opportunity to take a break sometimes if a student is over stimulated [or] if a student is being physical in their behavior. There are many different purposes for using a calming room,” says Asquith.

Now the B.C Ministry of Education has released new guidelines that cover the use of seclusion in schools. Those guidelines draw a distinction between seclusion and time outs, but it is unclear in which category the use of calming rooms falls.

However, the guidelines say that “physical restraint and seclusion are used only in exceptional circumstances where a student is in imminent danger of causing harm to self or others.”

Asquith says she will need to review the new guidelines but doesn’t expect changes will be needed as physical restraint or seclusion were already considered last resorts.

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The province says the new guidelines have been in the works for over a year and a half.