Seclusion rooms used over 700 times in 1 month at Edmonton public schools: report

A new report from Edmonton Public School Board shows students were placed in seclusion rooms 716 times in the first month of school, offering the first district-wide view of the controversial practice.

'I think that number certainly shocked me and I think it should shock everyone'

This is an example of a seclusion room inside a classroom from October 2018, when the government launched a review of the controversial practice. (Inclusion Alberta)

A new report from the Edmonton Public School Board shows students were placed in seclusion rooms 716 times in the first month of school, offering the first district-wide view of the controversial practice.

EPSB began tracking seclusion room use at the start of the school year, one of multiple changes to the school board since the province launched a review of the practice last October. Previously, the records were retained at the school level. 

"I think that number certainly shocked me and I think it should shock everyone," said Trish Bowman, CEO of advocacy group Inclusion Alberta, which has pushed for a provincial seclusion room ban.

Students reportedly chose the seclusion room as a way of managing their own behaviour in 468 cases, or 65 percent of the time, according to the report. The report covers seclusion room use from Sept. 3 to 27. 

In the other 248 cases, the report shows the same 88 students were placed in seclusion rooms as a crisis response to unsafe behaviour. EPSB serves over 105,000 students. 

"It isn't about what percentage of the students are being placed in seclusion. If it's your child or if it's you, it's one too many," Bowman said. 

42 seclusion rooms decommissioned

The report notes the board has taken steps to bolster oversight and training since the province launched a review of seclusion rooms last year.

The review was launched after a lawsuit was filed by the parents of a Sherwood Park boy with autism, claiming he was stripped naked, locked in an isolation room and found in his own feces. 

Under new regulations, students in Edmonton public school seclusion rooms must be monitored by trained staff familiar with the student's behaviour at all times. The board also conducted an audit of existing rooms to ensure they conformed to a new set of safety standards. 

The school board has decommissioned 42 seclusion rooms since the audit was completed in the spring, bringing the total down to 137 rooms. 

A new report from Edmonton Public School Board offers a look at how many seclusion rooms there are in the district as of Sept. 27. (Erin Callihoo/CBC)

The report says the school board anticipates the number to fall as it works through a wait list of schools who have requested to have a seclusion room decommissioned. EPSB operates 213 schools, according to its website. 

"It's a step in the right direction," Bowman said. "I hope this is an indication of really heightened awareness and a real desire to do better." 

Most of the seclusion rooms are at schools with specialized programming for students with complex needs or a developmental delay, according to the report. 

'A failure of educational programming' 

The report notes a student can only choose to go to a seclusion room if its a listed strategy in their individual behaviour support plan, a document created in collaboration with the family to outline strategies and supports for a student with behaviour challenges. 

But Bowman criticized the use of seclusion rooms as an acceptable behaviour management strategy. If calming strategies are ineffective and a student needs to be removed from the class, she said an open sensory room is more appropriate than a locked seclusion room.

She added that the 248 reported uses of seclusion rooms as a crisis response over a single month pointed to larger concerns around a lack of support and training in classrooms.

"Any large number of emergencies is a clear sign that something that you're doing isn't working in my opinion, and really a failure of educational programming and support," she said. 

Trish Bowman, CEO of Inclusion Alberta, has pushed the government to adopt a ban on seclusion rooms. (Dave Bajer/CBC)

The report will go before EPSB trustees at a meeting on Tuesday. A spokesperson told CBC News that EPSB was unavailable for comment ahead of the meeting.

Province looks to finalize seclusion room standards

The report comes as the province looks to finalize a new set of standards around the use of seclusion rooms by the end of October. 

The UCP government repealed a ban on seclusion rooms imposed by the previous NDP government days before it was set to come into force on the first day of classes, Sept. 3. 

The decision was supported by EPSB, which argued the ban went too far and limited a teacher's ability to safely deal with exceptional classroom circumstances. 

The government then brought forward interim seclusion room standards, similar to the EPSB regulations, that say seclusion rooms must be used as a last resort. A secluded student must also be released as soon as their behaviour no longer poses an imminent danger to themselves or others. 


Jordan Omstead was a reporter with CBC Edmonton. He left in 2021.


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