Education Minister Rob Fleming has promised swift action to curtail the “unacceptable” use of restraints and seclusion on special needs students in B.C. schools.
Fleming said he was disappointed as a parent and as a minister to learn about the incidents compiled by Inclusion B.C. in a report released Wednesday.
The advocacy group, which surveyed parents across the province, concluded that little has changed since its first report in 2013. New voluntary guidelines have largely been ignored and parents continue to report troubling incidents, the group said.
“Five years later, we’re stilling talking about the same thing and the graphic nature of what’s happening to kids is still deeply disturbing,” said Faith Bodnar, Inclusion B.C.’s executive director.
The report, Stop Hurting Kids II, cited survey results in which parents said their children were kept in seclusion for hours at a time, carried or dragged, restrained with straps or cuffs, tied to a chair, or forced into a plastic tote.
“Our investigation showed too many B.C. students are still being injured and traumatized by abusive, inappropriate and outdated practices,” the report said.
“Reasons include a lack of regulatory oversight, unclear standards, acceptance of aversive practices and inadequate supports and training.”
Inclusion B.C. called on Fleming to ban the use of restraints and seclusion except in limited situations, keep track of incidents, require all districts to adopt policies and procedures, and train teachers, staff and administrators in better ways to manage behaviour.
“We’re going to act on this really quickly,” Fleming told reporters at the B.C. legislature.
“I can’t speak for why the previous government did not have a lot to show for the last five years. My first reaction was the 2018 report is very similar to 2013.”
Fleming said school superintendents will be required to immediately review the report and every district will have to work with the ministry and have clear policies and guidelines by the end of this year.
He said the government will look at providing additional supports if teachers feel they are needed.
Fleming expressed particular concern about the report’s finding that some parents are never told about the use of restraints or seclusion on their children.
“If there is an incident like this that is serious, that occurs during the school day, I, as a parent, would want to know about that,” he said. “So the fact there isn’t any clear lines of reporting between the school, the district and the parent, I think, is a concern.”
Inclusion B.C., which advocates for people with intellectual disabilities, surveyed families last fall, receiving responses from 170 parents and guardians of students subjected to restraint or seclusion during the 2016-17 school year.
Most of the students were boys and almost all had a special needs designation.
The majority of the parents complained to the school and almost all said they were unhappy with the school’s response.
In nearly half the cases, parents removed their child from the school because of the incidents, the survey showed.
Inclusion B.C. said its first report prompted the government to issue guidelines for school districts to develop their own policies, but, to date, only 19 of 60 districts have done so.
The B.C. Teachers’ Federation backed calls to increase supports and in-service training for teachers, staff and principals.
Glen Hansman, the union’s president, said that when he worked in Vancouver, the school district provided non-violent crisis intervention training that was directly relevant to his work as a special education teacher working with children who had language delays and behavioural challenges.
“But, unfortunately, those opportunities don’t exist consistently nowadays, because we’re still reeling as a system from budget cuts under the previous government,” he said.
Hansman noted that substitute teachers, for instance, get thrown into difficult situations all the time. “And I can guarantee you that, 99 per cent of the time, no one from management is walking them through the safety plans for kids or providing them with the sorts of supports to defuse situations in a way that doesn’t involve restraints.
“If two kids are going after one another, or a child is self-harming or if a six-foot-five 15-year-old is throwing stuff around a room, what is there, within the district, to help a [teacher-on-call] be equipped with the skill set to defuse a situation like that?”
Hansman said he worries, too, that the teacher shortage is making the situation worse as special education teachers get moved into classrooms to cover for someone who is off sick.
“So we may be having situations where kids are acting up or not behaving in their usual way. Routines are thrown off. For a lot of these students, where violence might be a problem or where they’re anxious, consistent routine is really important.”