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Local school districts to close seclusion rooms by September

Currently, there are five seclusion type rooms in schools throughout the Grande Prairie area, but not for long. Their doors will need to be closed by September 1st after Education Minister David Eggen recently signed an order banning their use province-wide.

Grande Prairie Public School District Superintendent Sandy McDonald says he has three of these rooms in his schools but that they are only used in extreme cases.

“We don’t call them seclusion rooms… we refer to them as quiet rooms or safe rooms. The only circumstances in which we would use a room like that in our school district is if there was a very present or very impending threat to the physical safety of a student or students.”

According to McDonald, the use of these types of rooms for certain students is laid out in a specialized behaviour plan that is created by talking to the child’s parents as well as a specialist who recommends their use.

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Seclusion rooms have been used in some schools to isolate students who present a risk to others. They can be small locked spaces or as big as an empty classroom. Peace Wapiti Public School Division Superintendent Bob Stewart says his division doesn’t use those types of rooms.

“Peace Wapiti School Division does not have any rooms that would be defined as seclusion rooms. We do have sensory rooms that are actively supervised and sensory rooms are filled with therapist designed tools where students can regulate their own behaviour.”

Grande Prairie and District Catholic Schools Superintendent Karl Germann says his district doesn’t have any rooms that would be designated as primary seclusion but that there are two rooms that students are put in under supervision. He doesn’t agree with Eggen’s plan to ban them outright as he says there are uses for them.

“If a kid is essentially wrestling with a staff member for three-quarters of an hour they sometimes need to be placed in a space… They certainly don’t look like what you’ve seen in the news but there are times and places when a kid does have to be removed for his or her safety and the safety of the staff member. Taking that completely away might be an overreach on the ministries part.”

Germann says the room is the last option they use and once that option is gone, the child will need to be moved off-site. The Education Minister did say that schools will be able to request exemptions in certain cases as long as parents consent. McDonald says parents have already been reaching out worried about the future.

“Some of our staff have already been contacted by parents of children who have this as a strategy in their plan saying hey what’s the potential impact on my child’s plan… If we do not request a variance for a specific case then these rooms are unilaterally decommissioned and will not be a strategy that can be used.”

All seclusion rooms in Alberta will be taken out of service by August 31st.

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