Alberta’s education minister says work to develop a policy regarding the use of isolation rooms in schools has already started and review guidelines are expected within weeks.
The issue was thrust into the spotlight last week, when several families came forward with stories about their children’s experiences with seclusion — or timeout — rooms.
One family said their 13-year-old son — who lives with developmental disabilities and autism — was locked and left naked in an unsupervised seclusion room in 2015.
They said it took place at Sherwood Park’s Clover Bar Junior High School, which is part of Elk Island Public Schools.
Another parent said her six-year-old son — who has autism — was put in a seclusion room during a classroom tour at Steinhauer School at the end of August. That school is part of Edmonton Public Schools.
The district said child safety is its top priority and concerns are investigated thoroughly. It also said timeout spaces do not lock, are monitored at all times and are only used a last resort when students put their own safety or the safety of others at risk.
There is no jurisdiction in Canada that bans seclusion rooms. However, on Friday, Education Minister David Eggen said a working group would be tasked with developing guidelines to make schools safer for students and teachers.
“I am concerned about any situation where the safety of students may be at risk,” Eggen added in a statement on Monday.
“Last week, I announced the formation of a working group to develop a policy around isolation rooms.
“We will be seeking input from teachers, parents and clinical, therapeutic and behavioural professionals and expect to have the guidelines in place in a matter of weeks,” he said.
“I will do everything I can to ensure students learn in safe and caring classrooms.”
Inclusion Alberta – a non-profit organization that advocates on behalf of children with developmental disabilities and their families – is launching an online public survey to find out the prevalence of seclusion rooms and other restraints in Alberta schools.
Meanwhile, the parents of the 13-year-old boy from Clover Bar Junior High School would like to sit down with the education minister.
“We get it. We get the way the world goes around,” Marcy Oakes said.
“It starts form the top and so the government, I need you to listen to me. If not, I will keep talking.”
— With files from Slav Kornik