British Columbia

Students with special needs in B.C. still face seclusion, physical restraint in schools

A new report from the advocacy group Inclusion B.C. claims that little has improved since its report five years ago on student seclusion and physical restraint led to new guidelines.

Inclusion B.C. claims little has changed since its report 5 years ago, despite new guidelines

Children sit in a classroom looking at a green board.
Some children in B.C. schools still face 'profound, lasting emotional and/or physical trauma' due to incidents including restraint and seclusion, according to a new report released by Inclusion B.C. (CBC)

A new report from the advocacy group, Inclusion B.C., claims routine restraint and seclusion of children with special needs in schools hasn't improved much since its previous report in 2013 led to new guidelines — prompting the provincial education minister to promise new guidelines for schools by the end of the calendar year.

It says the impact of the practice in schools includes "profound, lasting emotional and/or physical trauma" for students.

"Families and others across the province continue to report disturbing incidents and patterns of conduct, inadequate staff training and support and a systemic lack of oversight and accountability," reads the report, titled Stop Hurting Kids II.

The report, released on Wednesday, is based on a survey of 170 people who self-identified as parents or guardians of a student who was subjected to restraint or seclusion in the 2016-2017 school year.

Types of physical restraint

According to the report, forms of restraint include students being pinned to a wall with a beanbag, tied to a chair, forced into a Rubbermaid tote, carried or dragged and pulled by a collar. The restraint allegedly took place in a range of settings from the playground and classroom to the principal's office.

Inclusion B.C. said the majority of reported restraint cases lasted less than 15 minutes, but six survey respondents said it lasted more than an hour.

Faith Bodnar, executive direction with Inclusion B.C., said the findings are disturbing.

"It creates a culture in a school that's not safe for anybody. It doesn't encourage belonging and inclusion, it actually encourages exclusion and separation," she said.

Bodnar also said the treatment can be scarring for any student.

"[It can lead to] sometimes physical, emotional and psychological trauma," she said. "Especially for the kids with special needs but also the kids that witness it."

Nearly 60 people who responded to the survey said the student had "experienced emotional injury or pain as a result of seclusion."

Upon learning of the incidents involving restraint, the report found 75 per cent of caregivers raised concerns with the school, but 97 per cent of those who did were unsatisfied with the response.

Parents and guardians also reported a lack of communication about incidents involving their children, with 48 people saying the school rarely or never informed them, and 86 people saying they never received a written report about their child's seclusion.

'Emotional injury or pain'

Inclusion B.C. said that 11 school boards in the province had relevant policies before its 2013 report, and only nine more had adopted or revised policies since the province introduced guidelines in 2015.

On Wednesday, Education Minister Rob Fleming said the government would be implementing new guidelines for every school district in B.C. by the end of the year in light of the report.

"We're going to act on this really quickly," he said.

"These are exceedingly rare situations, but they're disturbing that they happen at all."

He also said the government would be speaking with teachers and considering more classroom support.

"I think we expect teachers to go into classrooms and do a tough job every day," Fleming said.

After the report's release, B.C. Teachers' Federation President Glen Hansman said he agrees with the report's recommendations to increase support in schools.

"The kind of concerns reported in Inclusion B,C.'s report do not reflect the public education system we want, nor what happens in the vast majority of schools on a day-to-day basis," he said in an emailed statement.

Parents and guardians also reported a lack of communication about incidents involving their children, with 48 people saying the school rarely or never informed them. (Shutterstock/iChzigo)

"Restraint and seclusion should only be used in specific circumstances to protect the safety and well-being of students, teachers, and staff."

Hansman said safety plans aren't always communicated properly to teachers — especially those on call — which sets the student up for problems.

"The challenge teachers face while working with students who may be prone to physical outbursts, like hitting, kicking, spitting, or biting, is that safety plans are not always properly communicated, or staff are not given adequate in-service training."

With files from Justin McElroy

Follow Rafferty Baker on Twitter: @raffertybaker