Alberta’s largest school boards are urging the education minister to reconsider a ban on seclusion rooms in schools across the province.
In a joint statement released Friday, the board chairs and superintendents of the Calgary Board of Education, Calgary Catholic School District, Edmonton Catholic Schools and Edmonton Public Schools said they met with Education Minister Adriana LaGrange on Thursday to discuss the ban on the controversial practice.
The ban on seclusion rooms was put in place by the previous NDP government and is set to come into place on Sept. 1.
“We believe there are circumstances where the use of seclusion/calming rooms is appropriate,” the joint statement read.
“We recognize that their use comes with the responsibility for school authorities to have clearly articulated policies and expectations related to the establishment, oversight and use of these spaces.”
The board chairs said staff in their districts are extensively trained to develop plans, work with families and support students “who may exhibit unsafe behaviours that could cause harm to themselves, other students and staff.”
“Our school districts strongly support inclusion in our classrooms; our professional educators work hard to build classrooms that respect the needs of all students. A ban on the use of seclusion rooms limits how school authorities can address exceptional cases and still ensure the safety of all students and staff in a school community.”
The statement said these concerns have also been raised by teachers who work with students with complex needs, as well as some parents.
Seclusion rooms were brought into the spotlight last year when a couple filed a lawsuit against the province and Elk Island Public Schools. The parents of a 12-year-old boy with autism claimed he was locked naked in a room and later found covered in his own feces.
The rooms are used to give disruptive students a chance to settle down, but many parents of children with developmental disabilities had complained the rooms were harmful to their kids and needed to be banned.
A survey of 400 families done last year by the advocacy group Inclusion Alberta showed that 80 per cent of parents said the rooms left their children traumatized or in emotional distress. The survey indicated that more than half of children put in isolation were on the autism spectrum.
In February, then Education Minister David Eggen signed a ministerial order banning seclusion rooms in Alberta schools for the upcoming school year.
At the time, Eggen said schools and parents would be able to request exemptions that could see some version of seclusion for a student. However, he stressed that regardless of exemptions, no school would be allowed to put a student in an isolation room unless the child’s caregiver gives permission to do so.
Watch below: Education Minister David Eggen signed an order banning seclusion rooms in Alberta schools. As Fletcher Kent reports, some teachers say the ban doesn’t address the broader issue. (March 1, 2019).
Inclusion Alberta CEO Trish Bowman said she is disappointed by the push to have the order rescinded. She said the organization doesn’t deny that schools should have a response plan in place for emergency situations, but she added that seclusion rooms should never be used as a planned approach for kids who are having trouble managing their behaviour.
“We are not suggesting that the use of a safe space for children to calm in a supportive environment isn’t necessary,” Bowman said. “But the use of involuntarily locking children up in a room alone when they’re already traumatized and dysregulated is a dangerous practice that needs to stop.
“We are hopeful that the minister will implement the ministerial order as it stands. We believe the ministerial order as it’s written has provisions, in fact, that meet some of the conditions that the schools boards have said.”
In a statement Friday afternoon, a spokesperson with Alberta Education said at it currently stands, the ministerial order banning seclusion rooms remains in place.
“Minister LaGrange values the input from the metro boards, and will be reviewing their feedback on this issue. Alberta education will continue to work with partners in the education system to ensure the safety of all our students and staff,” Colin Aitchison said.
The joint statement from the Alberta school boards said they are willing to work with Alberta Education on best practices related to seclusion rooms.
With files from The Canadian Press.