Alberta education minister releases new guidelines for school seclusion rooms

EDMONTON — Alberta’s education minister says seclusion rooms in schools will not be banned, but only used as a last resort when a student poses significant and imminent danger to themselves or others.

Adriana LaGrange made the announcement in Edmonton, after the United Conservatives repealed a ban that was brought in by the previous NDP government over concerns the rooms were traumatizing students with developmental disabilities.

LaGrange says the new guidelines take effect on Nov. 1 and school authorities must report on their use of seclusion and physical restraint on a regular basis.

In August, public and Catholic school boards in Edmonton and Calgary urged the province to bring back seclusion rooms before the school year started.

The boards said the ability to isolate disruptive kids was an essential tool to ensure the safety of staff and students.

LaGrange says the guidelines were made with input from groups such as Autism Society Alberta, the Alberta School Boards Association, the College of Alberta School Superintendents and the four metro school boards.

“We expect that school authorities will use their data, the standards and the guidelines to improve their practices in supporting the success of students,” LaGrange said Wednesday.

The standards also outline design requirements for seclusion rooms and must abide by all building, safety and fire codes, LaGrange said.

Seclusion rooms made headlines last fall when parents Marcy Oakes and Warren Henschel said their 12-year-old autistic son had been locked naked in a room and was later found covered in his own feces. Elk Island Public Schools denied the allegations.

A survey of 400 families done last year by 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.

Trisha Estabrooks, chairwoman of Edmonton Public Schools, said seclusion rooms are meant to be a tool for teachers to handle crisis situations, not manage day-to-day behaviour.

“Our board is working really hard to prevent the use of seclusion rooms in our district, but we need help to do that,” Estabrooks said.

“That’s why we have been advocating for better supports from the province so these rooms are no longer needed.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published on Oct. 23, 2019.

The Canadian Press

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