A phone call from her son’s elementary school left mom Jackie Graham ‘seeing red.’
On Thursday, Sept. 24, says Graham, she received a call from South Broadview Elementary stating she should come and pick up her son.
Deacon is seven, in Grade 2, and has Down Syndrome.
“They said the quiet room wasn’t working today. I said, ‘Quiet room?’ They said, ‘yeah, well we put him in the quiet room to deal with his behaviour…’
“As a mom and hearing that, you just kind of see red. That’s how we found out about it.”
She would like to see quiet rooms completely banned from schools and, if the Ministry of Education won’t do that, strict guidelines must be in place regarding their use. She thinks the responsibility for her son’s situation ultimately lies with the lack of funding provided in the education system.
Graham says she was informed prior to her discovery that staff involved in her son’s education would be having a team meeting on Sept. 18 to discuss a plan. She asked if she should get a sitter so she could attend the meeting.
She said she was told no, she would be updated after the meeting.
As well as being the mother of four, Graham is an on-call CEA (certified education assistant) with School District #83.
Deacon has a CEA assigned to him full-time throughout his school day.
“I found out about the quiet room before they could tell me about the quiet room,” she says, noting when she later met with the learning resource teacher, principal and district administrator, she told them she was not okay with its use.
“To me that goes against everything an inclusive education should be,” she says, noting she’s not saying all Deacon’s behaviours are okay. But, “if his neuro-typical peer would do it, the teacher would probably go, okay…, we don’t do this in the classroom.”
She says the room is about nine by seven feet, “about the size of a walk-in closet.”
A photo taken of the inside shows a mat and a bean bag chair with a blanket, all on the floor.
“It just broke my heart to see that happen to my child – to anybody’s child. It breaks my heart to think this is in place in schools.”
On the outside of the door is a notice entitled: ‘Procedure for calming room when fire alarm bell activated.’
It states that “the calming room locking system is linked to the fire alarm. The door will automatically release when the alarm bell rings. When the lock releases, the door can be pulled to open, but does not open spontaneously…”
Graham said Deacon didn’t become unhappy about going to school, but she notes the quiet room was used for only four days before she found out and kept him home. She said she was shown notes from his file and, on one of those days, he was placed in the room three times, albeit briefly.
“How can you say this solution works when you’re resorting to it three times a day?”
One note stated someone tried to take him from the classroom to the quiet room and he would only go halfway, she says.
“My take on that is he probably knew where they were taking him and he didn’t want to go,” she says.
The school district issued a news release Wednesday, stating that some students have a behaviour plan “developed by a team of people including the teacher, learning resource teacher, principal, education assistants AND parents along with other professionals as necessary (for example speech-language, hearing, visually impaired, counsellors etc.)”
Part of the plan, stated superintendent Glenn Borthistle, sometimes includes a calming (or quiet) room.
“All schools in the district have an alternate space or a calming room for when students need a place to calm so that they can return to the learning environment. 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 states students are never left alone.
Regarding Deacon: “In this particular case, when the student has been in the calming room he has always been supervised by an adult. Sometimes with the door open and an adult in the room with him. Sometimes with the door closed and the adult directly supervising him through the window on the door. In following Ministry of Education protocols, students taken to calming rooms are never left alone.”
Graham describes Deacon as mostly non-verbal, an “energetic, curious little boy – he’s seven, I would peg him more as a three- or four-year-old who has just learned the power of ‘no,’” she smiles. “He’s extremely social, he loves his classmates, he just gravitates towards people. He’s constantly, constantly making me smile.”
She said part of the issue is she and her spouse Kirk are not seeing the behaviours at home that he’s exhibiting at school.
“We use every moment as a teachable moment,” she says, noting he has special needs and is not always going to behave appropriately. “As long as we teach him along the way…, I think they need to teach him what is appropriate behaviour…
“As a grown-up, if I were to be put in a room like that, rather than de-stressing or calming me, I think it would have the opposite effect.”
Faith Bodnar, executive director of Inclusion BC, issued a news release Wednesday on calming rooms.
“These are not safety rooms or quiet rooms. They are being used systematically to punish and isolate children and will continue to be used this way until legislation is enacted to ban the practice. These rooms and aversive practices must not be part of the routine behaviour management strategies in our schools. We know how to do better. We have the evidence, we have the research. This is about lack of leadership and a failure to do what’s necessary to protect vulnerable students in B.C.”
The Grahams were scheduled to meet with school district staff this week to review Deacon’s behaviour plan.
“School staff has the responsibility for ensuring the safety of all students and staff and stays in communication with parents to ensure that the safety of their child, or the others in the school, is being supervised to the greatest degree possible,” Borthistle stated in the news release.
Kari Wilkinson, president of the District Parent Advisory Committee, said she sees two issues – one, communication between the parents and the school, and two, the effects of funding cuts.
“I want all sides to work together for the best solution for our kids,” Wilkinson said. “That’s what we have to keep in mind at the end of the day, it’s the kids we’re all for.”