Bill 160, calling for regulation of seclusion and restraint 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. 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. We are especially thankful to those who spoke about their personal experiences.

Current Bill
The current Bill (which has not yet received Royal Assent) calls for:

  • establishing uniform criteria for the use of restraint or seclusion in schools;
  • mandatory notification to parents when seclusion or restraint are used; and
  • mandatory public reporting of each time restraint or seclusion are used.

Original Draft of the Bill
The original Private Member’s Bill focused on 3 areas: seclusion, restraint, and exclusions.

Bill 160, in original drafts, called for banning seclusion rooms and stipulated that “criteria must be met for the use of ‘calming or sensory rooms’ such as oversight by a regulated health professional,” so that isolation rooms would not just be renamed after a ban.

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 the month of September 2019 in Edmonton schools.

Bill 160, in past and current drafts, calls for policy establishing criteria 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.

Background: 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. Tracking the use of restraint will help to quantify the problem and begin to address broader issues and goals for classroom transparency.

Bill 160, in first drafts, offered protection to Ontario children from being excluded from school on the basis of their disability and called for the establishment mandatory reporting of hard and soft exclusions to parents and to the Ministry.

Background: 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. Internal exclusion is where children are told to stay home from school during field trips or told there is “not enough support” for them to attend school most days. All three types of exclusion are common in Ontario schools.

Importance of Bill 160
If passed, Bill 160 would be a powerful way to begin to protect disabled students’ human rights. It represents a sensible, morally-responsible path and creates a conversation that is long overdue.

This is an opportunity for multi-partisanship on a clear human rights issue.  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, phone (as able) your MPP to tell them you support Bill 160 creating tracking systems for seclusion and restraint in schools. Consider also sending a letter via Canada Post. Try to meet with your MPP in person. 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.