Alberta ban on school seclusion rooms comes with possible exemptions

Rooms used as teachers try to include developmentally disabled students

Alberta Education Minister David Eggen. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson)

Alberta Education Minister David Eggen says schools and parents will be able to request exemptions to a ban on seclusion rooms that will take effect this fall.

Eggen stresses that regardless of exemptions, no school will be allowed to put a student in an isolation room unless the child’s caregiver gives permission to do so.

“The exemption is based on the fact that some parents, together with schools, could come to the conclusion that having some version of seclusion for the student with severe special needs is the best practice,” Eggen told a news conference Friday.

“It’s part of that path of communication, building individual plans for students that are best for students.”

The rooms have been used as teachers have worked to include developmentally disabled students in classrooms.

Eggen said schools wanting to apply for an exemption will have to do so through his office. More details and guidelines are to follow, he added.

He made the comments at a news conference to announce he had followed through on a promise made two weeks ago and had formally signed a ministerial order banning seclusion rooms in schools starting Sept. 1.

He said there will be mechanisms in place, including on-site inspections, to make sure schools comply.

The rooms are used to give disruptive students a chance to settle down, but many parents of children with developmental disabilities had complained the rooms were harmful to their kids and needed to be banned.

A survey of 400 parents 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.

Eggen said the province will be working to deliver more help to schools to deal with developmentally disabled students.

“We’re not just leaving it at this by any means,” he said.

“I will provide support to make sure that people are getting training and support in the broadest possible way.”

Seclusion rooms made headlines last fall when a couple filed a lawsuit against the province and Elk Island Public Schools. The parents of a 12-year-old autistic son claimed he was locked naked in a room and later found covered in his own feces. The school board denies the allegations and the claims have not been proven in court.

READ MORE: Alberta school division sorry after employee dressed as Spice Girl with blackface

In response, Eggen struck an eight-member panel of parents, teachers and health professionals to develop guidelines to improve the rooms.

Two weeks ago, disability advocates publicly criticized the draft guidelines, which called for more parental involvement, and said little had changed and the core problem remained.

In response, Eggen announced the rooms would be banned.

Dean Bennett, The Canadian Press

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