A New Brunswick woman is raising concerns over the use of seclusion rooms in the province.
Chantelle Hyde’s daughter Lily is 11-years-old. She has non-verbal autism and developmentally is the age of a toddler. Although she has never consented to the practice and was never told it was being used, Hyde believes that her daughter was repeatedly subjected to a seclusion room while attending John Caldwell School in Grand Falls, N.B.
“This has been my worst fear to think that I ever could not trust people that you have to entrust the care of your child to everyday,” Hyde said.
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“You send them off on the school bus and you trust that those people are going to have their best interests at heart, that they’re not going to hurt them. I don’t trust that they had her best interests at heart if they never told me about this after the fact. I really don’t.”
It all stems back to April 12 when a mother of three children at John Caldwell went to the school to drop off some baked goods to a classroom. While walking in the hallways she saw Lily in a small room struggling to get out.
“She was in the school to bring some cupcakes to some different classes and saw my daughter in a small room, behind the glass window of a door slamming her hands on the window and screaming a tortuous scream,” Hyde said.
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“There was an adult on the outside of the door holding the handle shut with the full force of their body weight while another little girl in a wheelchair sat by watching.”
The mother, who asked not to be named, detailed the incident in a letter to the superintendent of the Anglophone West school district saying she would be removing her children from the school after learning that her son with ADHD had been held in seclusion.
After seeing a previous Global News Story about Hyde’s attempts to get better support for Lily, the mother reached out and told Hyde what she had witnessed on April 12.
Use of seclusion rooms are governed by Policy 703. According to the Department of Education, seclusion rooms are only to be used as a last resort when a student’s behaviour becomes dangerous. Parental consent is required and the practice must be a part of a student’s personalized learning plan. Parents must also be informed if a seclusion room is used.
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Hyde says she has never consented to the practice and that it is not part of Lily’s personalized learning plan. Moreover, the school never told her that Lily had been placed in a seclusion room. Data sheets from April 12 also make no mention of any sort of seclusion room being used.
Hyde says that her daughter does sometimes engage in violent behaviour such as biting, scratching or slapping, but usually only under certain stressful situations. The data sheet from April 12 and another from April 11 do make reference to some of those behaviours.
The anglophone school district says they cannot speak about specific instances due to privacy law and declined a request for an interview with the superintendent.
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“We are comfortable sharing that schools and the district will address a variety of student service needs through different strategies that support the well-being and appropriate learning of students. The Department of Education and Early Childhood Development provincial Policy 322 is one guiding document the supports staff in meeting the needs of students,” said a spokesperson for the district in an emailed statement.
The practice of using seclusion rooms has come under fire by inclusion activists across the country. Alberta moved to ban the practice, but the UCP government scrapped the plan just a week before it was set to come into force, instead placing protocols similar to those in New Brunswick.
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New Brunswick’s education minister Dominic Cardy says the province has no plans to ban seclusion rooms.
“It’s a tool, but it’s supposed to be a last ditch tool, because obviously you don’t want to have children exposed to being put into a room by themselves. You can imagine how that could be distressing,” Cardy said.
“But in some cases it can be helpful for some children under certain circumstances, but the goal has to be to make sure that it’s always part of the plan and designed in the best interest of the child.”
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Liberal education critic Chuck Chiasson says the practice should be banned outright.
“I think seclusion rooms should not exist. I think we need to find a way for support, people to be able to know when a child is reaching that point and to take that child out of the situation before it gets to the point where you have to put somebody in a seclusion room,” he said.
“We try and pride ourselves on being the most inclusive school system in all of Canada, yet we are not putting the resources in place to deal with the diversity that that brings us,” Chiasson said.
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The director of Inclusive Education Canada Gordon Porter also questions the necessity of the practice.
“Generally, seclusion rooms should not be needed. Practices in schools should prevent the use of seclusion rooms,” said Porter.
“Good practices and training and back up support for teachers should certainly reduce the need for them and I think with proper work should eliminate the need for them.”
Porter says there should be better training across the school system and that additional professional support staff like school psychologists would allow for the implementation of interventions that are more effective, and less harmful.
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“How can we do things different and how can we change the conditions so this doesn’t happen? The obvious first step is to say are there any signs of when this is likely to occur and how do we prevent that? What can we do that’s a way less restrictive than a seclusion room?,” Porter said.
“Find ways to prevent and then if an incident does occur, find a way to deal with it in a more appropriate way than a seclusion room,” he added.
But recruiting school psychologists has not been easy for New Brunswick. Cardy says the department is looking to see if teachers could benefit from additional training, allowing them to better deal with challenging situations, easing the labour shortage it currently faces.
“We have a huge shortage of trained labour in the province right now, a shortage of psychologists and other professionals … so the more that we can have everyone in the school environment given some better tools to handle these cases the better,” said Cardy.
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“That’s still going to remove the need for psychologists, for folks with a lot more training, but at least it means they can spend more of their time working on those most complicated cases. There has to be a real look at our mental health supports in the school system and that’s a process that’s currently underway,” he added.
How often seclusion rooms are used in not tracked at either the department or district level. Cardy says it’s something the department could look at to better understand where and why they might be used across the province.
Ultimately, the school district did conduct an investigation after repeated attempts by Hyde to learn what happened to her daughter at John Caldwell.
The district found that Lily frequently spent time in a small room with an educational assistant and that when she engaged in violent behaviour staff would identify it and try to use appropriate interventions. If things continued to escalate staff would leave the room, sometimes holding the door shut to keep her in the room, but said this is a normal and appropriate practice.
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Hyde says the results show the school was engaging in practices that were not outlined by Lily’s personalized learning plan, and is frustrated that the school would resort to using a seclusion room without her knowledge, rather than other intervention strategies that help constructively teach Lily better behaviour.
“I feel that they weren’t willing to admit that they didn’t have the knowledge and the resources and the ability at the time to control the situation. They certainly didn’t follow any part of the procedure that I believe should be in place to notify me about the situation to come up with another plan,” she said.
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“Instead the district completely kept the situation from me even though they were in meetings with me.”
After the experience at John Caldwell, Hyde has uprooted her family, moving to another school district. She says things appear to be positive at Lily’s new school, but has found it hard to regain trust in the school system.
“This never should have happened to my child,” she said.
“I shouldn’t be afraid to send my child to school. Nobody should. No child should be afraid to go to school.”