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Q & A: Seclusion rooms a symptom of a broken system

March 19, 2019 Dennis Theobald, ATA Executive Secretary

Question: I heard that the education minister has banned seclusion rooms. How will this affect the safety of students and teachers?

Answer:  On March 1, Education Minister David Eggen issued a ministerial order to ban seclusion rooms beginning on Sept. 1.

Alberta Education defines a seclusion room as a room, structure or enclosure — in a school operated by a school authority — whose primary purpose is the involuntary confinement or isolation of a student where the student cannot leave voluntarily and in which the room’s security measures are not under the student’s control.

It’s important to note that the ban will apply only to rooms that students cannot leave voluntarily, so calming or quiet rooms will not be affected. The order also permits school boards to apply to the minister for exemptions if they can demonstrate support from parents.

Typically, in cases where a student’s behaviour is posing a safety risk to others, district or school policy will dictate what steps to take to deal with the behaviour. This could include clearing the room and leaving the child in the room with supervision until the child regains control of their behaviour. It is wise to review the school’s policy so you are prepared when a child’s behaviour poses a risk or threat.

If you feel that your workplace poses a danger to you, please notify your principal and contact the ATA’s Member Services program area. There are also aspects of the School Act and the Occupational Health and Safety Act that can assist you with an unsafe work environment.

The safety of students and staff must always be top of mind when discussing any issue that affects the classroom. Seclusion rooms are a symptom of a system that does not provide enough support to ensure the safety of staff and students. There is not enough funding or allocation of resources to meet the needs of our students and teachers.

Also, many teachers in Alberta teach in overcrowded classrooms. The issue isn’t a lack of training; it’s that teachers are unable to effectively use the skills they already have in large, complex environments.

Of course, inadequate support for teachers in the classroom affects all students, not just those with exceptional needs.

As a result, aggression in schools is an issue that has gained prominence in recent years. Last June the ATA’s Provincial Executive Council established the Committee on Understanding Aggression(s) in Alberta Schools and School Communities, which is currently researching the prevalence of aggression in Alberta schools.

As this committee proceeds with its work, this issue is sure to return to the news. The conversation will inevitably turn from what is happening to potential solutions, and it’s hard to imagine any solutions that don’t involve better classroom supports.

This is what teachers have been seeking for years, and action is long overdue. ❚

Questions for consideration in this ­column are welcome. Please address them to Dennis Theobald at Barnett House (

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