Bill 160, calling for a ban on seclusion in schools, introduced in Ontario Legislature

December 9, 2019  Today, A4A members Anne and Gaby were invited to attend Ontario Parliament for a reading of Bill 160, Education Amendment Act (Use of Seclusion and Physical Restraints) 2019, presented by the Hon. MPP Michael Coteau.

This bill was a long time coming. It is due to the efforts of A4A and other advocacy groups, along with the persistence of MPP Coteau to bring it to a reading.

A4A supports every aspect of this important bill. At the bottom of this post, we offer information on how you can support it.

Who Made it Happen
We are very thankful to MPP Coteau for writing and sponsoring Bill 160. We are also grateful to Michelle and Angelina, mothers and tireless advocates, visiting office after office at Queen’s Park to gain support. A4A’s research and advocacy has been a key element of this movement, in coalition with other hard working groups and individuals such as Autism Advocacy Ontario and Hispanic Mothers of Autistic and ADHD Children Ontario. We are especially thankful to those who spoke about their personal experiences.

The Bill
The Private Member’s Bill focuses on 3 areas: seclusion, restraint, and exclusions.

Seclusion
Bill 160 calls for the abolishment of seclusion rooms.

An important condition in the bill is that “criteria must be met for the use of ‘calming or sensory rooms’ such as oversight by a regulated health professional”.  This is an extremely important part of the bill; without it isolation can just be renamed, rather than banned. We have seen isolation rooms being relabeled ‘calming rooms,’ when they are neither open nor voluntary.

Background: Disabled children as young as age 6 in Ontario public schools have been subjected to being locked in closets with chairs pushed against the door or kept in soundproof rooms with no way out nor to communicate–and no food or water for hours on end, sometimes day after day. This abuse has profound psychological effects and is never justified.

Most Ontario school boards have refused to adopt uniform tracking mechanisms to measure how often this happens, but estimates range from 16%-35% of special education students. In Alberta, where tracking of seclusion is finally happening after public pressure, there were 700 reported instances of seclusion in September 2019 in Edmonton schools. Advocates in Alberta, as well as many US states and across Canada, are calling for reviews and bans of this practice.

Restraint
Bill 160 also calls for policy establishing “criteria must that be met for the use of physical restraints, mandatory, same-day written notification of the parents or guardians [and] mandatory reporting to the Education Minister on each use of restraint in schools.”

We feel that tracking is a good step forwards towards naming the problem, as we are seeing in Alberta, Chicago and other jurisdictions that are now tracking and regulating the practice. We advocate further, for a full ban on restraint.

Background:  Shockingly, there are currently NO criteria for use of restraint in Ontario schools, nor any tracking or reporting mechanism for establishing accountability around the use of restraint. This element of the bill remedies that problem.

Restraint is also used as a form of neglect. We have heard from Ontario parents about their disabled children being tied in their wheelchairs and neglected in special education classrooms. Because interest groups lobby against cameras in classrooms, thee are barriers to documenting this abuse and holding abusers accountable. Tracking the use of restraint will help to quantify the problem and begin to address broader issues and goals for classroom transparency.

Exclusions
Bill 160 offers protection to Ontario children from being excluded from school on the basis of their disability and establishes mandatory reporting of hard and soft exclusions to parents and to the Ministry. We support these important elements of the bill.

Background: Both hard exclusion and soft exclusion of disabled students are common in Ontario. Hard exclusion is when a child is expelled based on their disability. Soft exclusion is when a child is made to feel so unwelcome that their family is forced to withdraw them to home education or place them into segregated classrooms. Internal exclusions, where children are stigmatized by being asked to stay home from school during field trip days or told there is “not enough support” for them to attend school most days, are also very common in Ontario.

Our Report to the Ontario government (Inclusion is the New Gold Standard) outlines the problem as well as ways to create a culture of inclusion in Ontario schools, based on our consultation with inclusion experts. Likewise, AAO’s survey of 568 respondents found a pervasive pattern of segregation and exclusions of autistic students [add cite] in Ontario schools, and makes recommendations for inclusive practices.

Importance of Bill 160
If passed, Bill 160 would be a powerful way to protect disabled students’ human rights. It represents a sensible, morally-responsible path and creates a conversation that is long overdue: asking legislators whether they support human rights for children in our schools or not.

This is an opportunity for multi-partisanship on a clear human rights issue. We hope that parties will unite, rather than divide. Ontario’s disabled children are depending on it.

Note to Media
We are available to speak about Bill 160 any time: contact us here. We can also connect you with other groups in Ontario’s coalition against restraint and seclusion.

What You Can Do
To support Bill 160 , please PHONE your MPP to let them know your view. Consider also sending a letter via Canada Post. Try to meet with your MPP in person about this. Please note: most MPPs do not read their constituent emails, so we do not advise emailing. You can find your MPP’s contact information here.

Tell your MPP that you support MPP Coteau’s Member Bill 160, banning seclusion rooms and creating tracking systems for restraint and school exclusions. Share your own experiences and perspective. If you get voicemail when you call, ask them to call you back. Follow up to make sure they have gotten your messages.

Please follow A4A on Facebook or Twitter for petitions, actions and more. You can read our Report to the United Nations on our website.

Thank you for your support.

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