Alberta group calling on province to implement law to stop seclusion rooms in schools

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WATCH ABOVE: Alberta's education minister has promised to ban seclusion rooms in schools. As Fletcher Kent reports, the pledge comes soon after parents and advocacy groups spoke out about the use of the rooms.

A group representing children with disabilities says provincial draft guidelines towards the use of seclusion — or timeout — rooms in schools do not resolve the issue and represent a status quo.

Inclusion Alberta wants the use of seclusion rooms in schools banned. The organization says there has been no progress in making improvements to the way children with disabilities are treated at schools since the province said it would make changes.

Last September, Education Minister David Eggen said a working group would be tasked with developing guidelines to make schools safer for students and teachers. The group included parents whose children with disabilities had been subject to or at risk of physical restraint and seclusion rooms.

READ MORE: Alberta-wide review of school seclusion rooms coming ‘in a matter of weeks’

Watch Below: (Oct. 29, 2018) As members of Alberta’s task force on seclusion rooms were introduced at the legislature on Monday, about 20 parents gathered outside to protest the rooms’ use in schools. Sarah Kraus reports.

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Parents protest use of seclusion rooms in Alberta schools

Inclusion Alberta said the working group and parent’s input and recommendations have been ignored and guidelines are not enough.

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The organization said its members — along with Autism Society of Alberta — were invited to meet with the working group in December to review its progress and “it soon became clear the status quo was not going to change.”

“Coming out with something that is fundamentally no different than what we’ve had for years is a huge disappointment,” Inclusion Alberta CEO Trish Bowman said. “No willingness to hold schools accountable, and we’ve seen this government be willing to do that in other areas, but for reasons we don’t understand they’re not prepared to do it for this issue.”

LISTEN BELOW: Trish Bowman speaks with Ryan Jespersen on 630 CHED

Inclusion Alberta wants legal mechanisms in place regarding the use of seclusion rooms and physical restraints.

“We need iron-clad rules, not guidelines, that are enforced through accurate reporting and real consequences for failing to act as required,” said Dr. Keith Goulden, a former member of the working group.

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“Responding to an unanticipated emergency is one thing but the repeated use of seclusion and restraints only occurs if there is a lack of planning, preparation and education.”

READ MORE: New report finds systemic use of restraint and seclusion in B.C. schools

The issue was put into the spotlight, when several families came forward with stories about their children’s experiences with seclusion rooms in September 2018.

Marcy Oakes and Warren Henschel 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.

READ MORE: Parents suing Alberta education officials say son locked naked in seclusion room

Oaks said she was enthusiastic when first asked to be a member of the working group about potential changes but that feeling has changed.

“I do feel a bit betrayed and angry like it appears I’m being used as some symbol that they are listening to parents,” she said.

Inclusion Alberta said letters were sent to Eggen and Premier Rachel Notley “voicing our collective dismay that our children were not worthy of protection and the minimum action needed to ensure their safety and well-being was nowhere to be seen.”

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In a statement released Friday morning, Eggen said he was disturbed by the stories he has heard from parents’ experiences with seclusion rooms and is convinced they must be banned.

“We know that we need to find a safe space for students that are struggling and need therapeutic supports in school. That is why our working group will carry on with this important work. Whether or not Inclusion Alberta wants to help with this work is up to them,” Eggen’s statement read.

“By working together on this important issue, I know we will enact change that will be in the best interest of our students and their safety.”

The organization said a survey was conducted among 389 parents of children with disabilities and special needs found 53 per cent of those children had been secluded or restrained at school, and 80 per cent of of the children who were between five and 10 years old were subject to the practice.

The study also suggested children who were fully included in regular classrooms were less likely to be restrained or secluded, while children partially integrated or completely segregated were more than twice as likely to be secluded or restrained.