A recently announced ban on seclusion rooms in schools is not really an issue for Ponoka’s two school divisions.
The Alberta government announced March 1 that the ban will start in September in schools — be it a room, structure or enclosure — where the primary purpose is to involuntarily isolate or confine a student in such a way the student can’t evacuate without assistance.
Back in late 2018, Alberta Education gathered a working group of parents, teachers and experts to advise the province on the issue. There have been requests to cancel the practice.
“As a parent and a former teacher, I’ve been disturbed by some of the incidents I’ve heard about involving seclusion rooms. Our government believes schools must be safe and caring places for all students to learn – especially the most vulnerable,” stated Education minister David Eggen in a release.
Wolf Creek Public Schools has confirmed there are no seclusion rooms within its division.
“The use of seclusion rooms, as defined through the ministerial order, has not been a common practice in Wolf Creek Public Schools,” stated WCPS superintendent Jayson Lovell.
Lovell added, WCPS has used current policies to guide staff, schools and parents on how best to deal with students that may have needed to be handled differently.
“Our district has established processes and procedures to guide staff when students require alternative space to regulate their behavior,” he said.
These include functional behavioural assessments, behaviour intervention plans, safety plans and creating individualized educational programming — all of which include parents, teachers, divisional staff and other experts to help build strategies to self-regulate behaviours plus de-escalate situations.
“Our staff also receives training in non-violent crisis intervention, life spaces crisis intervention and mental health first aid. This is training we are committed to continuing in WCPS, as this year alone more than 200 staff members received non-violent crisis intervention training.”
As for the St. Thomas Aquinas Roman (STAR) Catholic School Division — which operates St. Augustine School — there has never been a seclusion room inside the school.
“STAR Catholic School Division is aware of the ministerial order banning seclusion rooms and will comply with the regulations,” said STAR superintendent Charlie Bouchard in an email.
“We understand no two students are the same, and that each one has a unique set of needs when it comes to learning and development. STAR will continue working to meet those needs on an individual basis while ensuring every student is treated with dignity and respect.”
As a first step, school boards will be asked to submit a list of schools with a seclusion room. They will then require a declaration that these rooms be decommissioned by Aug. 30, 2019. Alberta Education will be performing on-site inspections and monitoring to ensure compliance.
The order permits school boards to apply to the minister for exemptions, but only if they can demonstrate support from parents.