'Not an acceptable use of force': holds and seclusion 'routine' at Yukon elementary school

·4 min read
A sign for Jack Hulland Elementary School in Whitehorse. (Jackie Hong/CBC - image credit)
A sign for Jack Hulland Elementary School in Whitehorse. (Jackie Hong/CBC - image credit)

Staff at Jack Hulland Elementary School in Whitehorse, Yukon routinely put students in holds or seclusion prior to 2020 for not following directions, including one case where a child was put in a hold for not pulling the hood of their sweater down.

Holds, where staff restrain students with their own bodies, are only meant to be used when there's an imminent threat to physical safety. Seclusion, where a student is confined in a space alone, is not supposed to be used at all.

Those were among the interim findings of an internal review ordered by the Yukon education department last fall after allegations that the use of holds and seclusion at the Whitehorse school violated policy and possibly the law.

The department received a report on the findings from the Mitha Law Group, a private firm hired to do the review, on April 19, education spokesperson Krisandra Reid confirmed in an email to the CBC on May 6.

Reid would not provide a copy of the report to the CBC, writing that it contained "sensitive and confidential personnel information that cannot be shared publicly."

'Not an acceptable use of force'

The CBC has not seen the report. However, Reid as well as a Jack Hulland parent shared notes from a meeting education officials held with parents on May 5 that touched on the report's findings as well as other safety and operational concerns at the school.

According to the notes, the department was concerned with the internal review's initial findings which "show that holds, restraints and seclusion were used routinely on children at Jack Hulland prior to 2020 for matters of non-compliance or not following the direction of staff, when it should be reserved as a last resort for when a staff member or student is in imminent danger."

The notes state the department has findings that show "holds were used for issues of non-compliance" including when a student was put in a hold for not taking down the hood of their sweater.

"This is not an acceptable use of force," the notes state.

Non-violent crisis intervention training provided

Jackie Hong/CBC
Jackie Hong/CBC

In an interview, Yukon deputy education minister Nicole Morgan declined to comment on whether the report identified how holds and seclusion became routinely used at Jack Hulland, but said no operational or staffing changes had been made in response to the findings.

However, she said all Jack Hulland staff received non-violent crisis intervention training in February and that the department had recently provided "very clear direction on the employer's expectations related to the use of force," including that the use of seclusion on students is not approved by the department.

"The staff at Jack Hulland ... work every day to keep that environment a controlled and safe environment for students to learn in, and we've seen a lot of really positive things happening at the school," Morgan said.

"I know that they have a strong desire for that story to also be told about their school, that there is a lot of great learning and positive things that happen every day."

'Lockdowns, rock throwing, violence, etc.'

The Jack Hulland school council did not respond to an emailed request for comment.

However, the meeting notes indicate some tension among parents about the appropriateness of holds and the pressure on school staff.

Questions from parents, as summarized by the notes, touched on the need for "a safe learning environment free of lockdowns, rock throwing, violence, etc."

The notes also touched on whether it's "safe and fair to expect for a teacher with 20 students to support (one) student and ignore the others," and what the threshold is for removing a student from school.

"Violence and elevated behavior impacts all," the written response to one of the questions reads in part.

"The use of holds and restraints can have lasting impacts on children and those that apply these interventions.

"Positive approaches reduce the elevated behaviour and make classrooms safer."

Morgan said the education department will be continuing the internal review.

The interim findings, she said, have resulted in more questions. Among them are the use and role of workplace risk assessments, which are documents that must be filled out any time a staff member uses a hold against a student or a student displays "escalated" behaviour.

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Google

The department began collecting the assessments in 2014. Morgan said Jack Hulland has averaged 42 assessments every year for the past five years. This accounts for approximately a quarter of all workplace risk assessments territory-wide.

Morgan said the government wants to understand more about the process for submitting assessments, how they are reviewed and responded to and if the process is effective.

Morgan said there was no firm timeline for when the next stage of the internal review would be complete.

A separate RCMP investigation on the use of holds and seclusion is still ongoing. No criminal charges have been laid to date.

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