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Advocates demand B.C. schools end use of so-called ‘seclusion rooms’

August 3, 2016



Advocates demand B.C. schools end use of so-called ‘seclusion rooms’

By Steve Mertl

National Affairs Contributor


By Steve Mertl | Daily Brew


Schools should stop using so-called seclusion or isolation rooms to deal with unruly children, advocates for special needs children in British Columbia say.

Inclusion B.C. and the Family Support Institute released a report Thursday based on an online survey that found an increasing number of parents told them their children were being shut away sometimes in no more than a closet, CBC News reported.

The report, entitled Stop Hurting Kids: Restraint and Seclusion in B.C. Schools, found 200 cases of children being isolated in windowless offices, padded rooms and a gym equipment closet, CBC News said.

Victoria resident Adrianne Wicks, whose daughter Savannah suffers from seizures and mild autism, said her child spent most of Grade 2 alone.

“The teacher held a vote in the classroom, and she was in essence, voted out of her class … and the teacher then grabbed her by the arm and dragged her across to the resource room,” Wicks told CBC News.

The report said isolation shouldn’t be confused with temporary time outs.

“It is generally accepted that brief physical intervention used to interrupt an immediate and serious danger to the child or others may be called for in the case of a safety emergency,” the report says. “This is different from the ongoing use of restraint as punishment or in the guise of treatment for a child’s disability or behaviour.”

[ Related: Autistic son put in black, padded room at school, says dad ]

“School should be a place that is welcoming and supportive for all students, not a place that isolates, alienates and humiliates as a result of seclusion and restraint,” Faith Bodnar, executive director of Inclusion BC, said in a release.

“Most of the students who were restrained were five to 10 years old, just starting out in the school system. Restraint and seclusion have long-term emotional effects on children and youth, their families and communities where they live; over 75 per cent of the students in our survey suffered emotional trauma.”

The survey found the children were isolated in closets, stairwells and classrooms. Some parents reported “prone holds,” “supine holds” and “wrestling holds with pressure” were used. Some 10 per cent said their children were secluded for more than three hours and one in five reported the isolation happened on a daily basis.

In the vast majority of cases – 72 per cent – parents learned about the isolation from someone other than school officials.

“This points to the fact that our survey is revealing only the tip of the iceberg in terms of restraint and seclusion in our schools,” Bodnar said.

“Clearly, this is about a systemic, fundamental problem, not an isolated event.”

Inclusion BC, a coalition of 70 different agencies dealing with special-needs kids, called for legislation and a plan from the Ministry of Education to end the practice of using restraint and seclusion in B.C. schools.

CBC News said it could not reach anyone at the Education Ministry to comment Thursday.

The practice of isolating disruptive students isn’t limited to British Columbia. It’s used elsewhere in Canada and in U.S. schools. The reported noted a U.S. government study covering a 19-year period identified hundreds of case of alleged abuse, including deaths, related to restraint and seclusion.

The blog Mom-Ology, written by the mother of an autistic boy, wrote that isolation rooms appear to be a dirty secret.

“In Canada, I believe the stance on ‘seclusion rooms’ is that they don’t exist, though they do have rooms that are used for ‘de-escalating’ a child or providing ‘quiet time’…. in essence they are the same thing,” Jen wrote.

Her own son was put in restraints and isolated, incidents that became a tipping point for Jen to pull her son out of class and home-school him.

“One of my biggest concerns with restraints is that even though there are guidelines for their use, many times it seems they are not followed,” she wrote.

[ Related: School ruined education of special-needs son, dad says ]

A column last year by child-development specialist Kimberley Powell in the Barrie Advance criticized the use of “calming rooms” in Simcoe County, Ont. schools as a cheap alternative to providing enough trained special-needs teachers and assistants as classrooms were opened up to these children.

“Faced with this influx of special-needs and challenging children, our public school board did not waste time introducing calming rooms,” she wrote. “No need to get ethics approval, consult parents or inform teachers about these rooms.”

Powell noted the state of Ohio has banned seclusion rooms from its schools and cited a U.S. Department of Education report that found 60 per cent of children placed in isolation had special needs or were deemed challenging, though not a threat to others.

“The most important argument against calming rooms is that placing a child in total isolation for behavioural issues goes against the right to a universal and inclusive education,’ Powell said.



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