Parents and advocates of children with disabilities are calling on the provincial government to ban what is known as “seclusion” or “timeout” rooms in Alberta schools.

“I want them to think about what if it was their child?” said Marcy Oakes.

Oakes helped draw attention to the issue of seclusion rooms in September 2018 when a $275,000 lawsuit was filed against the province. It claims her autistic son Aidan was locked in a seclusion room, naked and alone, at his Sherwood Park school in 2015.

Inclusion Alberta also launched an online survey about seclusion room use in schools in September. The results were made public on Friday.

Of about 400 parents who responded, 53 per cent said their child had been secluded and restrained at school.

“The thing I would say was most difficult was to read the comments because that’s where you really see the impact on children,” said Trish Bowman, Inclusion Alberta CEO.

A group was created to work with the education ministry to find solutions. Bowman said the group was allowed to see a draft of the policy the government is proposing in December.

“We really thought that the minister was committed to making meaningful change and we think it’s an opportunity to make that change, so coming out with something that is fundamentally no different than what we’ve had for years is a huge disappointment,” said Bowman.

“We think that there should be a mechanism where districts are required to report to Alberta Education how often these rooms are being used and why and how effective they are,” she added.

Education Minister David Eggen says the province is taking the issue seriously.

“I certainly favour banning inclusions rooms, but I want to make sure I’m getting the full scope of information from the experts that we’ve assembled and I defer to their expertise,” said Eggen.

“We know that we need to have policy on this. Our government’s not afraid to move forward on it, and we’re taking this very seriously and make sure we get it right.”

“Our reaction is we’re thrilled if the minister is prepared to act on banning the seclusion rooms. We again would say that still needs to be enforceable, so it can’t be a guideline,” Bowman said after hearing the minister’s comments.

Bowman said there would also need to be a clear definition of what a seclusion or timeout room is.

“Things like exclusionary time out in a dedicated space is seclusion so we’d need to see really careful I think, wording on how we go about banning exclusion rooms,” she said.

The minister would not provide a clear timeline on when changes could happen. Not good enough for the group who wants immediate action.

“And no willingness to hold schools accountable and we’ve seen this government be willing to do that in other areas, but for reasons we don’t understand they’re not prepared to do it for this issue,” Bowman said.

“I want to be clear: I believe there is sincerity in the actions, but I don’t believe that they’re prepared to do what it’s going to take, and I believe it might have a bit of a contrived component to it because they don’t want to accept accountability and admit that it’s wrong,” said Oakes.