Staff from the Ministry of Education will tour various schools in coming months to ensure they are complying with the seclusion room ban.
Minister of Education, David Eggen, announced on Mar. 1 that seclusion rooms would be banned in Alberta schools starting in the 2019-20 school year.
That means school divisions are submitting the schools with these types of rooms in them and promising to have them decommissioned by Aug. 30.
“We do not have seclusion rooms as they have been reported,” said superintendent Rick Cusson, Northern Lights Public School Division at the NLPS meeting last week.
“Do we have rooms that would be considered sensory rooms? Yes, we do. Do we have a couple of schools that have in essence calming rooms, where they can self-regulate and calm themselves down? Yes, we do. Do we have basically a forcibly removed situation where kids are placed in there against their will? No, we don’t.”
The province defines a seclusion room as a room, structure or enclosure in a school operated by a school authority, that’s primary purpose is the involuntary confinement or isolation of a student where the student is prevented or incapable of evacuating without the assistance of another person.
“It is fairly clear what the definition of a seclusion room is,” said Cusson.
“I think we’ve got some work to do on the administration side of things to ensure that we’re in compliance of this, which we believe we are at this point – strongly believe we are at this point.
“The other part is we’ll have to make sure we work with our staff that if we are to continue on with the practice with self-regulating rooms for students, or potentially sensory rooms, since those are not included in the seclusion room ban, that we use the right messaging and protocols to ensure those rooms are not to be considered seclusion rooms.”
Sensory or calming rooms are becoming more common in schools. Sensory rooms are designed to develop a person’s sense with special lighting, music, and comfortable spaces. It can be used to help students with limited communication skills.
“Sensory rooms are absolutely the best thing in the world,” said trustee Ron Young.
“They prevent the situation from developing, from happening in the first place. The word sensory and seclusion are just too close together in the alphabet. I hope we make as strong a use we can of sensory rooms to help these kids.”
The NLPS board feels the spirit of the ban has not so much to do with the rooms, but how they are used.
“We believe that this is an effort to further ensure students are included in schools. We don’t want that to be a step back because the fear is with appropriate spaces to reset and calm students, parents will be called and asked to pick them up. In our mind, that would be a step backward,” said Jimmi Lou Irvine, associate superintendent for NLPS.
Northern Lights is waiting to hear when ministry staff is planning to inspect the schools for seclusion rooms.
The province decided to ban seclusion rooms after the recommendations from a working group of parents, teachers, and experts.
“As a parent and a former teacher, I’ve been disturbed by some of the incidents I’ve heard about involving seclusion rooms. Our government believes schools must be safe and caring places for all students to learn – especially the most vulnerable,” said David Eggen, Minister of Education.