B.C. schools locking children in isolation rooms
CTV British Columbia
Published Wednesday, November 20, 2013 10:36PM PST
Last Updated Friday, November 22, 2013 12:40PM PST
There’s mounting evidence that several B.C. schools are restraining children who act out and putting them in isolation rooms, practices special needs advocates are pushing to have banned.
CTV News has obtained a survey of 200 parents from across the province who reported that school staff used various forms of physical restraint and seclusion against their children, many of whom have special needs.
According to the Inclusion B.C. survey, some children were locked alone in small rooms, including closets and stairwells. The length of isolation ranged from five minutes to more than three hours.
Inclusion executive director Faith Bodnar said many of the parents surveyed weren’t even told about the practices used on their children.
“Who’s tracking this? How come parents don’t know that these things are happening to their children? I was aghast,” Bodnar told CTV News.
Forms of restraint included having arms twisted behind a student’s back, being held in a chair, having wheelchair straps put around a student’s legs, and being put in wrestling holds.
Almost 80 per cent of the survey respondents reported that their children suffered emotional trauma, and 18 per cent reported physical pain or injury.
The past chair of New Westminster’s District Advisory Council, Wendy Harris, said parents have been complaining to her about inclusion rooms, dubbed “safe rooms,” in several local schools.
“I do know that children as young as Grade 2 are being put into these,” Harris said. “I was horrified, quite frankly.”
A picture taken last year at New Westminster Secondary School reveals a “safe room” with padding on the walls and floor. Board of Education Chair Michael Ewen confirmed the rooms are being used, but insisted that children are not forced or locked inside.
“These rooms are used for a small amount of time as needed for the students,” said Ewen.
The chair said there were “a couple occasions in the last year” where the practice was abused, but that students are not placed inside for hours per day.
“To my knowledge, no, nor would I think that would be appropriate.”
Inclusion B.C. is calling for a province-wide ban on restraint and seclusion, pointing to a 2012 B.C. Ministry of Health report that noted that seclusion is internationally viewed as a violation of human rights.
There is currently no provincial policy on isolation rooms.
The organization also wants educators to be better skilled at de-escalating conflicts with students, and for parents and guardians to be better informed about school practices.
For more on this story, watch Michele Brunoro’s continuing coverage Thursday on CTV News