Alberta’s education minister says seclusion rooms in schools across the province will be banned starting next school year.
“I have heard loud and clear from parents, teachers and advocates across the province that something needed to be done and I want you to know that our government is listening to you,” Education Minister David Eggen said in a statement on Friday.
The announcement comes a week after a group representing children said 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 response
Inclusion Alberta wanted the use of seclusion rooms in schools banned. The organization said there had been no progress in making improvements to the way children with disabilities were treated at schools since the province said it would make changes last year.
The organization applauded Friday’s announcement.
“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.”
Inclusion Alberta CEO Trish Bowman said more still needs to be done, including increasing positive approaches and training for teachers and school personnel, but said Alberta is leading the country on thie issue.
“We recognize the importance of carefully crafting the order to ensure it is the practice of seclusion that ends, not the closure of rooms,” Bowman said.
LISTEN BELOW: Trish Bowman speaks with Ryan Jespersen on 630 CHED
Edmonton Public response
Edmonton Public Schools’ Superintendent Darrel Robertson said he is waiting for more information before making any sudden changes.
“Some of you might not be aware, we created a draft administrative regulation on individual safe spaces earlier this year in consultation with staff working in, or supporting, some of our most complex classrooms,” Robertson said.
He said the EPSB will wait to see the ministerial order, expected to be released next week, before reviewing potential changes to their draft administrative regulation.
“We will continue our unwavering commitment and legislative responsibilities to ensure that classrooms in our District are safe for all students and staff,” he added.
Edmonton Catholic response
Edmonton Catholic Schools said it has just two seclusion rooms in the entire district, and focuses on positive behaviour intervention strategies.
“We are constantly challenging ourselves to provide flexible and responsive approaches to meeting the needs of all students, through our multiple pathways for learning, and collaborative response to programming,” a statement from communication team member Dana Prefontaine said.
The Catholic school district said it will work in full cooperation with Alberta Education and is “exploring alternate ways in which to ensure student and staff safety.”
Last September, 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.
“I have been deeply concerned by some of the things that parents and students are sharing about their family’s experiences with seclusion rooms,” Eggen’s statement continued.
“Student safety is our top priority and this ban will ensure that all students learn in a welcoming, caring, respectful and safe environment.”
Premier Rachel Notley said she is glad the ban is being implemented.
“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,” Notley said.
“It’s not my view that that is an appropriate way to deal with any special needs child, so I am glad that Minister Eggen has moved forward on that.”
The province said it will be working with school boards to make sure they have the necessary resources to work with children and parents with disabilities.
The ban will come into place for the upcoming 2019-20 school year, Eggen said.
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.