Advocacy group calls for review of seclusion rooms in Alberta schools

Seclusion rooms for students with disabilities should be regulated or banned from Alberta school, says an advocacy group for people with disabilities.

“Locking and leaving children with disabilities neglected and abandoned in seclusion or isolation rooms is a form of abuse and violence that needs to end immediately,” Trish Bowman, CEO of Inclusion Alberta, said Friday at a news conference.

The organization has launched an online survey to identify families affected by schools that use seclusion rooms or restraints.

Isolation rooms should be banned from schools, says Trish Bowman, CEO of Inclusion Alberta. (CBC)“We don’t have any idea how many of these rooms there are, how often they’re being used, for how long children are being held in these rooms,” Bowman said.

There are no requirements for schools to keep records of how and why the rooms are used, she said.

“I think it is reasonably prevalent,” said Bowman. “We are seeing more families telling us stories of their sons and daughters being put in these rooms.”

The call for a review follows a lawsuit launched last year by the parents of a Sherwood Park boy, who claim their autistic son was stripped naked and locked in a school isolation room, where he was later found covered in his own feces.

The incident happened in 2015. The 12-year-old was a Grade 8 student in the practical learning and community education program at Clover Bar Junior High School in Sherwood Park.

“I’m shocked it has taken this to get any sort of traction,” said Warren Henschel, father of the boy named in the lawsuit.

“It really comes down to the humane way of doing things,” he said. “More often than not, things can be dealt with in a preventative manner.”

Henschel said he understands the need to keep staff members safe. But other than a “power struggle” to put a child in his place, he said, there’s no reason to use isolation rooms.

This is an example of what an isolation room can look like. (Inclusion Alberta)

The rooms should not be used as a last resort, Henschel said. Rather, a call to a caregiver or parent to take the child home should be the last resort, he said.

“The trauma that is associated with this is immense,” Henschel said.

Bowman wants schools to be required to keep data on why and how often the rooms are used, and how long children are kept inside.

The survey of parents by Inclusion Alberta will offer better insight into the issue, Henschel said.

Education Minister David Eggen has promised “as soon as possible” to convene a working group of parents, teachers and advocates to develop a new set of guidelines for Alberta schools.

“I’m very concerned with this situation,” Eggen said Thursday in an emailed statement. “Seclusion rooms should only be used as a last resort.”

Thirty-six Edmonton public schools have behaviour and learning assistance programs, and most of those programs included what the board calls “time-out spaces,” a spokesperson for Edmonton Public Schools said Friday in an emailed statement.

“Time-out spaces are used as a last resort intervention for students whose behaviour puts their own safety, the safety of other students and/or staff at risk,” the statement said. “This behaviour can include punching, kicking, biting, spitting and throwing furniture.

“The purpose of a time-out space is to give the student a chance to regain control of their emotions and actions in a safe environment. Time-out spaces do not lock and are monitored at all times.”

Parents who have concerns about their children and the use of time-out spaces should talk to their school principals, particularly if their children have individualized behaviour support plans, the statement said.

One Catholic school in Edmonton has two seclusion rooms, Edmonton Catholic Schools spokesperson Lori Nagy said in an emailed statement. The other 95 schools in the Catholic system don’t have them, Nagy said.

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Sherwood Park

Sherwood Park is a large hamlet in Alberta, Canada within Strathcona County that is recognized as an urban service area.[7] It is located adjacent to the City of Edmonton’s eastern boundary,[8] generally south of Highway 16 (Yellowhead Trail), west of Highway 21 and north of Highway 630 (Wye Road).[9] Other portions of Sherwood Park extend beyond Yellowhead Trail and Wye Road, while Anthony Henday Drive (Highway 216) separates Refinery Row to the west from the balance of the hamlet to the east.[9]

Sherwood Park was established in 1955 on farmland of the Smeltzer family, east of Edmonton. With a population of 70,618 in 2016,[6] Sherwood Park has enough people to be Alberta’s seventh largest city, but technically retains the status of a hamlet. The Government of Alberta recognizes the Sherwood Park Urban Service Area as equivalent to a city.


Sherwood Park, originally named Campbelltown, was founded by John Hook Campbell and John Mitchell in 1953 when the Municipal District of Strathcona No. 83 approved their proposed development of a bedroom community east of Edmonton. The first homes within the community were marketed to the public in 1955. Canada Post intervened on the name of Campbelltown due to the existence of several other communities in Canada within the same name, so the community’s name was changed to Sherwood Park in 1956.

The Sherwood Park Urban Service Area is located in the Edmonton Capital Region along the western edge of central Strathcona County adjacent to the City of Edmonton.[8] The majority of the community is bound by Highway 16 (Yellowhead Highway) to the north, Highway 21 to the east, Highway 630 (Wye Road) to the south, and Anthony Henday Drive (Highway 216) to the west. The Refinery Row portion of Sherwood Park is located across Anthony Henday Drive to the west, between Sherwood Park Freeway and Highway 16. Numerous developments fronting the south side of Wye Road, including Wye Gardens, Wye Crossing, Salisbury Village and the Estates of Sherwood Park, are also within the community. Lands north of Highway 16 and south of Township Road 534/Oldman Creek between Range Road 232 (Sherwood Drive) to the west and Highway 21 to the east are also within the Sherwood Park urban service area.

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