Canadian schools have recently come under fire for the use of seclusion rooms for disruptive students, a practice which many may be surprised to know still exists in Canada today.
The rooms function exactly as they sound. Students with special needs who are perceived as disruptive are put into isolated rooms for time-outs. The students are confined to the rooms against their will, and the door is either locked or blocked. This approach to behaviour management and treatment of students with special needs seems antiquated and has been critiqued by researchers, advocacy groups and educators, yet still exists in Canadian schools.
CTV News reports that Salmon Arm residents Jackie and Kirk Graham alleged earlier this month that employees at their seven-year-old son’s school had repeatedly locked him in a small room with no windows. They alleged that this happened without knowledge or consent of the parents, or consent of the student.
“Sometimes called ‘isolation rooms’ or ‘calming rooms’ – at their most extreme they are locked rooms with padded walls” said Brock education professor Dr. Sheila Bennett, as quoted in CBC News. “I saw a small house as part of a residential school for students with special needs with one boy who spent his days and nights alone there with centre staff. In Ontario, in the middle of a high school, I also saw an isolation room. One of my colleagues was in tears just seeing that they still existed.”
Inclusion B.C., a special needs advocacy group, first brought the issue of isolation rooms to public attention in 2013 with a comprehensive report on the rooms called Stop Hurting Kids. This report, available on their website at inclusionbc.org, details the existence of isolation rooms, the ways that they have been used and abused within the past several years, the damage that they cause, and recommendations for next steps. However, the rooms are still around and facing public scrutiny as recently as this month.
“There was, and is, no evidence that the use of restraint and seclusion has any therapeutic value in reducing unwanted behaviour,” says the Inclusion B.C. report. “An examination of school records in the US covering a 19-year span identified several hundred cases of alleged abuse, including deaths related to restraint and seclusion of children in schools.”
The report also mentions that, as of 2013, there was no requirement in B.C. for schools to report or document the use of seclusion and restraint, and no provincial regulation of the practices. The report also mentions that students were sometimes left in the rooms for hours at a time.
Considering the number of Education students and future teachers at Brock University, the existence of seclusion rooms in some of Canada’s schools is something to be aware of in terms of educational policy and reform. Groups like Inclusion B.C. and other vocal critics of the rooms continue to advocate for better rights and treatment of students who have special needs, hoping that their voices will be heard by school boards and public officials.