SALMON ARM - A Salmon Arm mother is still in shock after finding out her seven-year-old son was being locked in a room at school as part of a behaviour management plan she knew nothing about.
Jackie Graham found out about the practice when the principal of South Broadview Elementary School in Salmon Arm called her to say the ‘quiet room’ wasn’t working for her son Deacon, who has Down Syndrome, and that she needed to come pick him up.
“I said ‘What?’ I didn’t even know what the quiet room was, but I was horrified because I could imagine what he was talking about,” Graham says.
The mother of four has had kids enrolled at the school since 2009 and only remembers ever seeing the small room used for storage. After picking up Deacon, she went back to the school to take a closer look at the room, which she describes as small and furnished only with a mat and a bean bag chair. A sign on the door states that in the event of a fire, the locking mechanism will release.
“I was just sick to my stomach. To me that’s imprisonment. That’s a form of torture to have a child in a locked room with an adult on the other side of the door. As a grown up, I’d be horrified if someone did that to me.”
What she’s most frustrated by is the fact that she and her husband weren’t consulted about Deacon’s behaviour management plan and the use of the quiet room.
“I’m not an expert in behaviour management, but I am the expert on my child,” she says.
The Grahams decided to keep Deacon home from school until they found out more about the quiet room policy. While Deacon is enjoying his solo time with mom, he misses his teacher and classmates, Graham says.
“He’s got an amazing sense of humour and he’s very curious about the world. He has a smile for everyone and is just a social little guy,” she says. “We would love to have him back in the school.”
Graham has since met with the school and found out a bit more about the use of the quiet room. She says the school started using it for Deacon about a week earlier. In that time period, he was sent to the room daily, sometimes up to three times a day. There is no log book to show how long he was in the room, if the door was open or closed, or if an adult was in the room with him.
Superintendent of School District 83 Glenn Borthistle was said to be in meetings all day today, Oct. 8, but his office did send a written statement. In it, Borthistle said students with special needs each have a behaviour plan that sometimes includes the use of a room where students can go "to calm down and prepare to go back to join his or her class."
“All schools in the district have an alternate space or a calming room.” Borthistle said the statement. “In our district, calming rooms that are currently in our schools strictly follow the Ministry of Education protocols and guidelines which exist for these spaces.”
He said students are never left alone, and always have an adult in the room with them, or on the other side of the door, observing them through the window. He also said the individual behaviour plan is developed by a team including the teacher, learning resource teacher, education assistants, and parents — but Graham insists that was not the case with Deacon.
“I just feel really betrayed because we were never consulted,” she says.
An advocacy group called Inclusion B.C. says the practice adversely impacts children and has been calling for a ban on quiet rooms for years. The group released a report called which found students across B.C. were being restrained in resource rooms and isolation rooms, and in some cases closets, hallways and stairwells.
Graham says the school has since agreed to stop using the quiet room for Deacon, but she won’t be taking him back until a behavioural management plan has been made for him — one that includes her input.
— The spelling of Down syndrome was corrected at 7:05 a.m. Oct. 13. Thanks to reader Cate Eales
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