Alberta Education Minister David Eggen issued a ministerial order Friday morning to ban seclusion rooms in schools across Alberta effective September 2019.
Greg Southam Greg Southam / 00086336A
Seclusion rooms will be banned in schools across the province before the start of the next school year.Education Minister David Eggen signed a ministerial order Friday morning forbidding schools from using isolation rooms, but providing the opportunity to apply for an exemption.“Schools must be a safe and caring environment for all students to learn, especially the most vulnerable,” Eggen said during the announcement.Seclusion rooms have been used in some schools to isolate students who present a risk to others. These can include small, locked enclosures and Eggen said there needs to be a more “progressive wAll school boards across the province must submit a list of schools with a seclusion room and ensure they are decommissioned by August 30.ay.” He noted calming rooms or timeout spaces with supervision are “categorically different” than seclusion rooms and viable options for schools.But, school boards will have the ability to apply for exemptions based on individual students if they can demonstrate support from their parents.“What we need to do is have a more systematic way to approach this,” Eggen said. “Building individual personal plans fit for students, fit for parents and for schools as well.”.@AlbertaEd will be performing on-site inspections and monitoring schools to ensure compliance, Eggen says. All boards in Alberta will be required to report all seclusion rooms that exist in their schools currently— Dustin Cook (@dustin_cook3) March 1, 2019The ban stems from months-long discussions about these rooms since last September when a Sherwood Park family came forward alleging their 12-year-old son with autism was locked naked in an isolation room for at least 45 minutes and he became covered in feces.Parents Marcy Oakes and Warren Henschel took the provincial government, Elk Island Public Schools and school staff to court, but the school district denies wrongdoing and the allegations haven’t been proven in court.Eggen formed an eight-member working group in October to make recommendations for new guidelines on timeouts and seclusion rooms in response, highlighting he wanted to see changes “within weeks.”But in February, Inclusion Alberta slammed the draft guidelines saying they didn’t go far enough to enforce accountability on schools and the government. Within an hour of the Feb. 15 press conference, the minister responded that seclusion rooms must be banned.‘We’re taking action right now’In response to the lengthy timeline of events, Eggen said advocates and those involved in the working group made it clear new guidelines weren’t enough and helped shaped the ministerial order decision.“We’re taking action right now. What I have done here … begins the process to decommission seclusion rooms,” he said.All school boards across the province must submit a list of schools with a seclusion room and ensure they are decommissioned by August 30. The ministry will conduct on-site inspections to ensure compliance. There will also be training opportunities for teachers and support staff, Eggen said.Alberta Party MLA Karen McPherson says waiting until September for the ban isn’t good enough and is calling on the government for immediate action.“I was hoping Minister Eggen would have some good news for families and kids this morning — kids who are least able to speak for themselves,” the Calgary-MacKay-Nose Hill MLA said in a statement Friday morning. “This isn’t about partisan politics — this is about making sure all schools provide a safe, caring and inclusive environment for all students, regardless of ability or background.”A 2018 Inclusion Alberta survey with more than 400 responses from families whose children were secluded or restrained in schools found 80 per cent of the children were between the ages of five and 10 and more than half were on the autism spectrum.Edmonton Public Schools is in the midst of drafting a new regulation on “individual safe spaces,” superintendent Darrel Robertson said in a statement Feb. 22. District leaders will adapt policies for any new legal requirements, he said.Edmonton Catholic Schools, which has two isolation rooms in St. Margaret School, said the district will co-operate with the provincial government’s order and look for alternative ways to keep students and staff safe.-With files from Janet French firstname.lastname@example.org/dustin_cook3