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Alberta lifts ban on seclusion rooms in schools, will establish new rules for use

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WATCH ABOVE: The education minister has reversed a ban on seclusion rooms following a plea from Alberta school boards. But it also calls for a lot more work on the issue. Fletcher Kent reports.

The ban on seclusion rooms in Alberta schools will be lifted in the fall, and a new set of “specific rules” put in place by the end of October by the government.

The former NDP government issued a ban, which was set to take effect Sept. 1, in March. Thursday’s decision immediately repeals that order.

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Seclusion rooms have been used by teachers as they work to include students with various challenges in the classroom, and are credited with giving students who are acting out a chance to settle down. The ban was imposed after parents of children with disabilities complained the rooms were harmful to their children.

READ MORE: Alberta school boards call on government to reconsider seclusion room ban

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.

Earlier this month, Alberta’s largest school boards petitioned the government to reconsider the ban, saying there were situations and circumstances where the use of a seclusion or calming room is appropriate.

In a statement issued Thursday, UCP Education Minister Adriana LaGrange said the new standards on calming and seclusion rooms would be in effect by the end of October.

“After careful consideration and a lot of listening to those directly affected, I have decided to move forward together with our partners in a more measured way, which is the right thing to do for the right reason,” LaGrange said.

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“I understand the urgency of this work, which is why I have directed my department to work immediately with our partners, such as school boards, Inclusion Alberta and the Alberta Teachers’ Association, to finalize how this tool can be used and how the system will be held accountable.”

The new standards will be drafted with input from partners including Inclusion Alberta, Alberta Teachers’ Association, Alberta School Boards Association, Alberta School Councils’ Association, College of Alberta School Superintendents and the four metro school boards.

WATCH (Aug. 23): Alberta school divisions ask province to reconsider seclusion room ban

Click to play video 'Alberta school divisions ask province to reconsider seclusion room ban' Alberta school divisions ask province to reconsider seclusion room ban
Alberta school divisions ask province to reconsider seclusion room ban

Until the new rules are in place, “interim standards for seclusion and time out are in effect,” the government said. It was not clear what those standards were on Thursday afternoon.

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

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In a statement Thursday afternoon, Inclusion Alberta said while the earlier ban on using seclusion rooms was “well-intentioned,” it left too much up to the discretion of a school board or authority. However, the group said a ban should still be in place for locked seclusion rooms.

“Having a quiet space where a child with developmental disabilities can go when needed, however, is not equivalent to locking them in an isolation room,” the group said.

“It can never be emotionally or psychologically beneficial to drag or force a distraught child with developmental disabilities into a seclusion room or its equivalent and leave them locked in for an indeterminant amount of time,” CEO Trish Bowman said.

“Children need to see their teachers and principals as points of safety and comfort; as people they can trust and go when they are at risk.”

“Standards must prohibit the use of locked or forced confinement and, as such, we welcome the opportunity to collaborate with Minister LaGrange in the development of new standards that will ensure Alberta students with disabilities are always positively supported and safe at school.

“Given children with disabilities experience higher rates of violence and abuse in their lives, we need schools that are zones of protection and safety, not sources of further violence and abuse as our survey on the use of seclusion and physical restraints exposed; particularly as their use was applied primarily to young children with disabilities.”

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The Alberta Teachers’ Association said Thursday it believes “the ministry and school authorities should develop comprehensive policies that will assist school leaders, teachers, parents and the public to better understand the circumstances and processes that should be employed if non-voluntary time out is necessary.”

Representatives from the province’s four largest school boards welcomed the minister’s response, saying they looked forward to helping establish a new plan for seclusion rooms in their schools.

“This decision will allow us to support our most complex students while maintaining safe, caring, and respectful learning environments for all students and staff,” said Mary Martin, Board of Trustees chair with the Calgary Catholic School Division.

To hold schools accountable, all school authorities will be required to provide the ministry with a monthly report on the use of the rooms, on a per-school basis.

— With files from The Canadian Press