Sur­vey launched on school seclu­sion rooms

Calgary Herald - - CITY + REGION - JANET FRENCH

ED­MON­TON A lack of pro­vin­cial data on school seclu­sion rooms has prompted a non-profit or­ga­ni­za­tion to sur­vey par­ents about the use of re­straint and iso­la­tion in schools.

Posted Fri­day, the on­line sur­vey is the first ef­fort by In­clu­sion Al­berta to find out how of­ten stu­dents are locked in time-out rooms and for how long. Many stu­dents who end up in the rooms have de­vel­op­men­tal dis­abil­i­ties or be­havioural dis­or­ders. “We want to try to get as com­plete a pic­ture as pos­si­ble of some­thing that, in fact, has been hid­den to most peo­ple in this prov­ince that has not yet been ad­dressed,” In­clu­sion Al­berta’s CEO emer­i­tus, Bruce Udit­sky, said at a Fri­day news con­fer­ence.

The room goes by many names, in­clud­ing iso­la­tion room, seclu­sion room, time-out room, safe room, or calm room.

In­sti­tu­tions use them to ei­ther give an out-of-con­trol per­son a place to calm down, or as a pun­ish­ment for their be­hav­iour, said Dick Sob­sey, Univer­sity of Al­berta pro­fes­sor emer­i­tus in ed­u­ca­tional psy­chol­ogy.

There hasn’t been much re­search on whether the rooms are ef­fec­tive at chang­ing stu­dents’ be­hav­iour, he said in a Fri­day in­ter­view.

There are of­ten more ef­fec­tive ways of calm­ing or di­vert­ing peo­ple hav­ing an out­burst, he said. If the rooms are be­ing used cor­rectly, and staff are be­holden to good guide­lines, the rooms are rarely used, he said.

Al­though Al­berta’s ed­u­ca­tion min­is­ter said iso­la­tion rooms should only be used as a “last re­sort,” In­clu­sion Al­berta staff has heard of chil­dren locked in the rooms for hours, or on mul­ti­ple oc­ca­sions, CEO Tr­ish Bow­man said.

School dis­tricts are free from re­port­ing re­quire­ments on us­ing the rooms, and pro­vin­cial guide­lines on their use are not en­forced, Udit­sky said. “Lock­ing and leav­ing chil­dren with dis­abil­i­ties ne­glected and aban­doned in seclu­sion or iso­la­tion rooms is a form of abuse and vi­o­lence that needs to end im­me­di­ately,” Bow­man said Fri­day. “No child should go to school with this threat loom­ing over them.”

To demon­strate the po­ten­tial harm of seclu­sion rooms, par­ents Marcy Oakes and War­ren Hen­schel tear­fully told re­porters Fri­day about al­leged ac­tions by staff at a Sher­wood Park pub­lic school in 2015. In a law­suit, they al­lege staff locked their son with autism, then 12, inside a room naked, where they later found him cov­ered with his own fe­ces.

The Elk Is­land dis­trict said Thurs­day it will vig­or­ously de­fend its staff in court. A state­ment of de­fence filed by the de­fen­dants was with a judge and un­avail­able for pub­lic view­ing on Fri­day.

Ed­mon­ton par­ent An­gela McNair is also wary of iso­la­tion rooms af­ter she took her six-year-old son Rowan on a school visit two weeks ago.

Rowan, who has autism spec­trum dis­or­der, Tourette syn­drome, sen­sory pro­cess­ing dis­or­der and other dis­abil­i­ties, was anx­ious and act­ing ag­gres­sively when McNair took him to visit the teacher at an Ed­mon­ton pub­lic school on Aug. 31.

The boy got into a ver­bal and phys­i­cal tus­sle with the teacher, who briefly put the boy inside an iso­la­tion room, McNair said in an in­ter­view Thurs­day. It eroded her trust in the school, and now, she’s not sure where Rowan will go for Grade 1.

Since the con­flict, he’s be­come leery of his respite work­ers and doesn’t want to leave the house, she said.

It scares McNair to think school staff can force chil­dren into an iso­lated room with­out parental per- mis­sion.

“It both­ers me,” she said. “These are spe­cial needs chil­dren. They have a di­ag­no­sis.”

Ed­mon­ton Pub­lic Schools calls the iso­la­tion rooms “time­out space,” and the school dis­trict is cur­rently re­view­ing how staff use them, spokes­woman Car­rie Rosa said in an email Fri­day.

The dis­trict has “be­hav­iour and learn­ing as­sis­tance” pro­grams at 36 schools, and “most” of the pro­grams have a time­out space, Rosa said.

The rooms are a last re­sort op­tion to “give the stu­dent a chance to re­gain con­trol of their emo­tions and ac­tions in a safe en­vi­ron­ment,” she said. Bit­ing, kick­ing, punch­ing or throw­ing fur­ni­ture present a risk to oth­ers, she said.

Staff must doc­u­ment all time­out space use in a log­book, and staff must su­per­vise chil­dren in the rooms, she said. Staff must be able to see the stu­dents inside, and the doors can­not lock, dis­trict time­out guide­lines say.

She wouldn’t com­ment on McNair’s sit­u­a­tion for pri­vacy rea­sons, ex­cept to say that’s not how they wanted the school year to start for the stu­dent or staff.

One of 96 Ed­mon­ton Catholic schools has two rooms the dis­trict calls “safe rooms,” spokes­woman Lori Nagy said in a Fri­day email. Two trained pro­fes­sion­als must su­per­vise chil­dren while they are in safe rooms, she said. The doors do not lock un­less a staff mem­ber is hold­ing onto the han­dle.

Staff only put chil­dren in the rooms dur­ing emer­gen­cies when their be­hav­iour is “ex­tremely se­ri­ous,” and are re­leased as soon as any dan­ger­ous be­hav­iour stops, she said.

Staff must fol­low strict guide­lines and com­plete a crit­i­cal in­ci­dent re­port each time they put a stu­dent in the room.

An­gela McNair

Marcy Oakes


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