Edmonton

Edmonton Public Schools to continue use of seclusion rooms, despite opposition

Despite the objections of some parents, the chair of the Edmonton public school board says the district is "absolutely" moving in the right direction with its policies to regulate the use of seclusion rooms.

'Just to say they can disappear all at one point and time is very challenging'

This is an example of a seclusion room inside a classroom. (Inclusion Alberta)

Despite the objections of some parents, the chair of the Edmonton public school board says the district is "absolutely" moving in the right direction with its policies to regulate the use of seclusion rooms.

"We are absolutely on the right track. We have a strong administrative regulations that put strict guidelines in place that clearly state these rooms should only be used in a crisis situation," Trisha Estabrooks said Tuesday following a four-hour board meeting Tuesday night.

"To me as a parent, the piece around working with parents is a key part of our administrative regulation. And I know our staff are part of some really important conversations at the provincial level."

A report prepared for trustees showed seclusion rooms had been used 716 times in September alone. Students reportedly chose the seclusion room as a way of managing their own behaviour in 468 cases

In the other 248 cases, the report shows the same 88 students were placed in seclusion rooms as a crisis response. In all but three cases, parents had provided their consent for the use of a seclusion room.

EPSB serves more than 105,000 students.

Parents who spoke at the meeting said those statistics are not acceptable. 

"These numbers are not only shocking, they're down right appalling," said Grace Bowers. 

"If you're trying to de-escalate an unregulated child, how is locking them into a small space going to help them calm down? There is huge disconnect here, and until you acknowledge this we are all going to keep spinning in circles."

First report for the district

This is the first time the school board has gathered district-wide information about the use of seclusion rooms. Superintendent Darrel Robertson said the board wants to reduce and in some cases eliminate their use, but it won't happen immediately.

"Just to say they can disappear all at one point and time in a school district is very challenging," Robertson told trustees.

"When children become angry to the point of not being able to regulate themselves, there are circumstances of violent outbursts in the classroom that place, not only the child, but others at risk.

"In those circumstances, the use of a seclusion room might be appropriate," he said. 

Have these rooms in the history of Edmonton Public [Schools] always been used properly? No they haven't. But that's a job of teaching and supporting our people to do the very best they can.- Darrel Robertson, Edmonton Public Schools superintendent

A student would remain in the seclusion room, supervised, for only as long as it takes for them to calm down; a de-brief would occur with parents and the principal would be notified, he said.

"We don't want to access these rooms and we're doing everything we can to avoid that. Have these rooms in the history of Edmonton Public [Schools] always been used properly? No they haven't. But that's a job of teaching and supporting our people to do the very best they can."

Motion withdrawn

Seclusion rooms have been in the spotlight since 2018, when the parents of a Sherwood Park boy alleged in a lawsuit that he was found naked in a seclusion room. Organizations that advocate on behalf of children with disabilities have demanded the province ban their use.

Several trustees said they are wrestling with the issue.

Two weeks ago, Nathan Ip suggested the board consider a timeline for phasing out seclusion rooms in Edmonton public schools. But at Tuesday's meeting, he withdrew the motion.

"My personal position has not changed. I would like to see the phase out of seclusion rooms. But what I'm hearing from stakeholders and community members is a request for more dialogue," he said after the meeting.

"I felt it was irresponsible to set a specific timeline without the full implications of what this decision would mean and without consulting with staff and others."