Alberta introduces new standards for seclusion rooms in schools

The Alberta government introduced new standards for the use of seclusion rooms and physical restraints on Wednesday but emphasized they should only be used as a last resort. 

Inclusion Alberta and Edmonton Public Schools welcome Wednesday's move by the province

Education Minster Adriana LaGrange said seclusion rooms should only be used as a last resort. (Sam Martin/CBC)

The Alberta government introduced new standards for the use of seclusion rooms in schools on Wednesday, emphasizing the rooms should only be used as a last resort. 

Education Minister Adriana LaGrange said the standards give teachers and school officials the tools needed to ensure a safe learning and working environment.

"This is about preventing misuse and ensuring the well-being, safety and dignity of all students and all staff in Alberta schools. In exceptional circumstances these procedures may need to be used from time to time with the use of seclusion rooms as a last resort," said LaGrange. "I applaud school authorities that are looking for ways to limit their use and even working towards their total limitations."

The standards were introduced in a ministerial order.

Under the new standards, seclusion rooms and physical restraints should only be used when a student's behaviour poses an imminent risk of serious physical harm to the child or someone else. They cannot be used as a form of punishment or behavioural management.

"The goal is to increase and improve proactive behaviour interventions so that the use of seclusion and/or physical restraints is minimized or unnecessary," the ministerial order says.

The standards, which include design requirements and a regular reporting process, take effect on Nov. 1. Guidelines are also provided for use of time-out in schools.

Last October, the former NDP government launched a review of seclusion rooms after a lawsuit was filed by the parents of a boy with autism who alleged he was stripped naked, locked in an isolation room and found in his own feces. In March, the use of seclusion rooms was banned.

But in September, the UCP government overturned the ban and introduced interim standards it worked on finalizing with partners such as the Alberta Teachers Association, school boards and Inclusion Alberta —a group that has repeatedly called for a ban.

Inclusion Alberta described Tuesday's move as a welcome step to a future ban, lauding the government's collaborative approach.

"We believe, for these standards to be effective there must be a stringent and public monitoring process to ensure when a child with disabilities is locked in a seclusion room it is only in the context of an emergency relative to safety, with no other alternative," said Inclusion Alberta CEO Trish Bowman, in a press release.

A report earlier this month from Edmonton Public Schools showed students were placed in seclusion rooms 716 times in the first month of school.

Alongside monitoring, rules introduced by the school board also required students to be monitored by trained staff familiar with the student's behaviour, at all times. 

Trisha Estabrooks, chair of Edmonton Public Schools, said the guidelines reflect the feedback from the board and parents asking for clarity on how and when seclusion rooms should be used.

"Our board asked for greater clarity in these guidelines, in particular that seclusion rooms and the practice of timeout not be used as punishment or as a behaviour management technique. And we certainly see that more explicitly stated in these guidelines," Estabrooks said. 

"Our board is working really hard to prevent the use of seclusion rooms in our district, but we need help to do that. And that's why we have been advocating for better support from the province so that these rooms are no longer needed for youth."