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(Canada) Ontario: Autistic 1st grader placed in "padded 'cell'" without informing parent

Oct 28, 2022, CTV News: Ontario mother says young son was placed in padded 'cell' by school without her knowledge https://toronto.ctvnews.ca/ontario-mother-says-young-son-was-placed-in-padded-cell-by-school-without-her-knowledge-1.6129904

You can hear the discomfort in Margaret Hodgson’s voice as she describes “the room” she says her son was placed in multiple times by teachers at an Ontario school without her knowledge or consent.

“I'm horrified. Like, I didn’t know that this room existed,” Hodgson told CTV News Toronto over the phone on Thursday.

The Mississauga mother of three said all of her children live with some form of autism, but the challenges faced by her middle child have been especially difficult.

“[He] has a lot more anxiety and frustration that comes with not being able to express himself,” Hodgson explained, pointing to her son's issues with communication, hearing, and short-term memory.

But it wasn’t until one year into the COVID-19 pandemic that Hodgson said she actually learned about the methods his teachers at Riverside Public School had used to keep him under control.

Hodgson said her son was struggling with remote learning and expressed his desire to return to the classroom.

“He breaks down in tears and says, ‘I don't care. I'm done. I don't want to do this [virtual] school. I want to go back to real school. I'll even go in that room that they put me in.’”

Caught off guard by the reference to a “room,” Hodgson said she began asking questions of her son -- who would have been in Grade 1 at the time.

A protocol had been established that if her son had to be “removed” from a traditional classroom, he would go to the principal’s office first, Hodgson explained. But her son began to describe a room that was different from the principal’s office.

“When I asked him what room he was talking about, he started to describe the library to me, or at least that's what I thought [he was describing].”

“So I physically walked down to the school and I said to him, ‘show me’ and he took me to the outside window of the ASD [autism spectrum disorder] contained classroom. And he pointed through the window, and I could see this door. And I was like, ‘what is that?’ and he's like, ‘that's the room,’” Hodgson recalled her son saying in March of 2021.

After making several demands to see the inside of the room herself, Hodgson said she was finally granted a guided tour two months later, accompanied by the Peel District School Board’s superintendent, the school’s principal and her son's teacher.

Hodgson described a small room with walls covered in bright, vinyl-coloured padding that she said was akin to a jail cell. In fact, she said, the padding is so thick that the only window in the room was barely useable.

She said she was not allowed to take pictures of the space.

“I can't imagine what would be going through his brain in that room. Like, he is not the kid who likes small spaces,” she explained.

As for how many times her son was placed in the room, Hodgson said he only responds by saying “lots.”

Hodgson has since removed her son from Riverside and said he’s made strides with his at-home learning, which she plans to continue indefinitely until the room is removed….

PROVINCE DOESN’T TRACK USE OF ‘SECLUSION ROOMS’

According to Ontario’s Ministry of Education, the use of so-called ‘seclusion rooms’ aren’t tracked by the province.

Moreover, the Ministry says it’s up to individual school boards to determine when one of these rooms can be used and for how long.

That’s a big problem, according to autism advocate Anne Borden, who acts as a spokesperson for Autistics 4 Autistics (A4A), which is calling for a ban on seclusion rooms by way of legislation through Bill 160….

Due to the lack of data, Borden says A4A has been forced to rely on other province’s statistics to try and understand how widespread the problem might be in Ontario.

For example, in Alberta, a report by Edmonton Public Schools published in Oct. 2019 found that the seclusion rooms throughout schools in the board -- of which there are 137 -- had been used 716 times in just 19 days the month prior.

The previous Alberta NDP government had actually announced a ban on the use of the rooms which was set to take effect in the 2019-2020 academic year. The incoming UCP government reversed the ban but did introduce new measures to limit and track their use.

Alberta Education Minister Adriana LaGrange said at the time, “Seclusion and physical restraint are tools of last resort. I applaud school divisions that are looking for ways to limit their use, and are even working towards their elimination."…

Margaret Hodgson is seen in this image with her two sons. (Supplied)

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