Advocates for special needs students are calling on the B.C. government to ban so-called "isolation rooms," where they say children deemed unruly are being restrained.
A report issued by Inclusion B.C. and the Family Support Institute says more and more families have told them their children are being secluded at school, sometimes in no more than a closet.
The report, "Stop Hurting Kids: Restraint and Seclusion in B.C. Schools," reveals the results of an online survey, which yielded 200 examples of children being left alone in everything from windowless offices, to padded rooms to a gym equipment closet.
Adrianne Wicks says her daughter Savannah, who suffers from seizures and is mildly autistic, spent most of Grade 2 in her Victoria elementary school 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," said Wicks.
Inclusion BC's Executive Director Faith Bodnar says sometimes the children are isolated for hours at a time.
"Most of the students who were restrained were five to 10 years old, just starting out in the school system," said Bodnar.
"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.”
Bodnar says one of the most concerning figures in this survey is that 72 per cent of parents learned about restraint or seclusion from someone other than the school.
“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. Clearly, this is about a systemic, fundamental problem, not an isolated event.
"We're really, really troubled and concerned that children are not safe in school, particularly that children with special needs are not safe in schools in our province."
Bodnar is calling on the provincial government to ban the isolation rooms.
B.C. Education Minister Peter Fassbender says he's concerned by reports that some children with special needs have been locked away at school for hours, and says he will initiate a discussion about policies and practices.
“We’re going to have that discussion about what some of the issues might be, what some of the protocols are that should be looked at. What we need to do is make a very well-thought-out decision if we do make any changes in light of that.”