The topic of seclusion rooms has been a hot topic in the media, and rightfully so.
The thought of a child being put in a room against their will is a prospect neither parents, principals or staff at Edmonton Public relish.
From my own perspective as a Trustee, I can tell you two things about seclusion rooms: people have mixed feelings about them, and, in some cases, they do make sense. It is important for people to understand that no one wants to have to separate a child from their teachers and classmates. But sometimes it is necessary.
School districts have a legislative responsibility to keep all children safe. We all want what’s best for children, individually and collectively. With the safety of both students and staff in mind, staff working in Edmonton Public Schools need to have the option of using a seclusion room for those situations where a student’s behaviour is posing a threat to their safety or that of other students and staff.
It is the expectation and the understanding of the Edmonton Public Schools that this tool will be considered as a last resort in those rare situations when a child is posing a significant risk to themselves and/or other students and staff. On September 3, the same day that school started, Edmonton Public’s superintendent, Darrel Robertson, shared the new administrative regulation on seclusion rooms that will govern how and when they are used in Edmonton Public schools. Of particular interest to me as a parent is the strong emphasis on communicating with parents about the use of seclusion rooms, both before they are used and afterwards.
When the three chairs from the largest metro districts and I met with the Education Minister to advocate that she lift the previous government’s ministerial order on seclusion rooms we communicated clearly that we recognize the use of these rooms comes with great responsibility. To me that responsibility means school districts must have clear policies and expectations for the use of these rooms, standards for the training of staff who use seclusion rooms, clear standards for how these rooms are set up, and a way to track how and when these rooms are being used.
My message to parents has been if you have concerns about your child being put in a seclusion room, please talk to your child’s principal. The administrative regulation says:
“ In cases where parents/guardians indicate they do not support the use of a seclusion room for their child, the school will work with them to identify an alternate crisis response strategy. This strategy will be documented in the student’s IBSP.”
Communication is key and parents are key partners in education. We have to be. If you want to know if your child’s school has a seclusion room, ask the principal. If you want to know what that seclusion room looks like, ask to see it.
I have been in these rooms. In fact, when I learned about the use of seclusion rooms in our district I made it a priority to ask when I visited a school to also see their seclusion room. It is important that we have open, honest conversations about seclusion rooms. We are talking, after all, about the safety of children and staff within our schools.
If you’re interested in reading the provincial government’s standards on seclusion rooms click here. Keep in mind that these are interim standards and that new ones will be drafted in consultation with a number of organizations, including Inclusion Alberta and representatives from all four metro school districts. The standards are clear and in many ways are comparable to Edmonton Public’s administrative regulations saying that seclusion rooms should only be used if there is immediate danger to the student or others. The use of these rooms should be considered an “emergency,” and must be documented and reported to parents immediately.
Finally, please keep reaching out with your concerns and suggestions. This is an important conversation, and though the conversation may sometimes be difficult it is still important to have it.