My friend Hayley has brought to the worlds attention that there may be problems in elementary schools after her son was put in a calming room that she wasn’t aware of. This small room is 4×4 and is all padded as well as the door! A padded room! Hayley is a great mother of this amazing boy and she is very concerned that this room is not aware to most people who put their children in this school. Please have a read!
Parents across Canada are reaching out to talk about their emotionally fragile children being sent to calming rooms in their own schools.
After reading about Hayley McBride’s four-year-old son, Casper, being put into a padded calming room during class time without the Barrie mom’s consent — in fact, she’d demanded the opposite — people from Alberta to New Brunswick have waded in on the issue with their own opinion or experiences with calming rooms.
The calming room in the Portage View Public School in Barrie is padded and there is a window in the door. However, some school boards don’t offer their special needs children the same comforts.
One of the most vocal parents, Dawn Gratton from London, Ont., whose son attends a Thames Valley District School Board, said her son has been put into a former computer-server room off the library.
“Last year, there was still a computer on a table, with all of the electrical cords and stuff,” Gratton said. “The walls and the floors aren’t padded, there wasn’t even a window until they put one in the door last year. They’re hoping to be able to afford padding this year.”
Gratton said her autistic son is on medication for his ailments, but says she believes the school has a responsibility to care for him and respect his rights as they would any other child.
“I’ve been there when they’re holding the door to the room closed and he’s crying, ‘Let me out, I’ll be good, please let me out’,” she said. “It’s confusing to him, because they tell him it’s supposed to be a positive room for him to go to, and then they don’t let him out.”
Gratton said her mother is an educational assistant in a school in Uxbridge that also has a calming room.
“But there’s no door on theirs, it’s just a soft padded room for the child to go to calm down,” she said.
However, as Barrie MPP Rod Jackson points out, while many people understand the need for the room, not having a parent’s permission to use it goes against the grain.
“This school board is going rogue,” Jackson said. “No other school board in North America deals with kids they way they do.”
Simcoe County District School Board chairman Robert North, who couldn’t comment on McBride’s case specifically because of privacy issues, said he believed conversations were happening at various levels about the use of calming rooms.
“It sounds like there needs to be a conversation between parents, staff and the school board,” he said.
“Every student in Ontario deserves to learn in an environment where they feel supported and respected,” Ministry of Education spokesman Andrew Morrison wrote in an e-mail to the Examiner.
“The Ministry of Education encourages school boards, parents and students to work collaboratively to address concerns related to programs and services for students with special education needs,” he added.
“It’s important to note that boards are required to establish policies and procedures to ensure safety for all students and staff, including students receiving special education programs and services and the staff members who support these students.”
Jackson said McBride’s son being put in a calming room without a parent’s approval is “irresponsible and indicative of the lack of respect with how they deal with these children.
“I’m pointing to the school board trustees on this and I encourage parents to call their trustee and ask them why they’re not doing their jobs and being vigilant overseers of the system,” Jackson added.
Jackson has also taken umbrage with the Simcoe County District School Board’s position on blocker pads, which special needs children’s teachers carry when accompanying some autistic children.
Jackson’s private member’s bill to have the pads removed is in limbo after the Liberal government prorogued parliament.
Ed Mahony, a full-time educational assistant and part-time advocate for Autism Ontario, said the idea of a calming room is not a bad idea for children with special needs.
“The issue is not the calming room, per se. Isolation rooms cannot be sustained because the very issue is how do you get the children into the room? Getting them there seems to break the board’s own policy on the rooms,” Mahony said.
A board memorandum states students will access calming rooms voluntarily as part of a predetermined and documented plan, and that they won’t be used for disciplinary measures or as punishment for inappropriate behaviour.
Mahony said boards have two courses of action to chose from to teach staff about the use of working with autistic or special needs children: non-violent crisis intervention or the behaviour management systems, which is what the board follows.
“Both courses say there’s no safe way to move a child in crisis,” he said.
Yet, Mahony believes calming rooms have a place in schools for autistic children.
For example, he said, if a child is in a reading circle and can’t sit still for the 12 minutes it’s going to take to read the book, they can be praised for sitting still and excused at eight minutes and go to their calming room.
“It’s the same with the blocker pads — it’s all about the application,” he said. “Most boards don’t go down this road.”
In a New Brunswick board of education, the parent of one child contacted the Examiner to say her nine-year-old son was locked in a small carpeted room as punishment for not having completed his homework.
“He does not have autism or ADHD,” she wrote.
“There was no communication from the school that there was even an issue with my son that day.”
And that’s the problem with having calming rooms in schools, said Barrie psychologist Dr. Ken Marek.
Although he can understand how they would work with an education assistant in the room helping the child calm down, it becomes a problem when those procedures are not followed.
“Any good thing can, and will be, misused,” he said.
“Calming rooms” used strategically: board
BARRIE – Hayley McBride says her 4-year-old son Casper was sent to a small padded room at his school three…
SIMCOE COUNTY – Open and consistent lines of communication between schools and parents appears to be the answer after an uproar erupted following the confinement of a four-year-old in a small, closed and padded room at his elementary school last week.
An article first appearing in the Toronto Star on Friday, Nov. 16, describing how a JK student at Portage View Public School had spent time alone in a padded room has generated media attention and reader comments from across Canada. The story is also found on the Barrie Advance web site (www.barrieadvance.com).
Four-year-old Casper McBride was photographed by his mother, Hayley, in a tiny room at the school last Tuesday, during an impromptu tour of the school. Casper allegedly told his mother, “They throw me in here.”
According to the board, these areas, called “calming rooms”, are found in many schools across the county and are used to permit students to burn off excess energy, or anxiety, that is making it difficult for them to remain in a classroom setting.
Debbie Clarke, communications director and spokesperson for the SCDSB, replied in an email that, “We are not able to comment about an individual student, except to say that staff at Portage View Public School continue to meet with the family who publicized their concerns to ensure the family fully understands the Individual Education Plan process and is satisfied with the strategies required to meet their child’s needs.”
The Simcoe County District School Board, in its Administrative Procedures manual, contains a memorandum titled “Use of Calming Rooms as Proactive Self-Regulation Strategy,” published in Feb. 2010.
The board’s policy states, “Students will access calming rooms voluntarily as part of a predetermined and documented plan and calming rooms will not be used as a disciplinary measure or as punishment for inappropriate behaviour.”
Casper’s parents have objected that on three occasions, their son was dispatched to the room without their knowledge.
Clarke adds, “Calming rooms are a proactive option for some students who need additional strategies to help them de-escalate and reduce challenging behaviours. Parents sign their child’s Individual Education Plan, which outline a number of mutually agreed upon strategies to be used to ensure the child has the best education experience to meet his or her needs.”
An adult must supervise students placed in a calming room at all times according to the board of education.