Parents suing Alberta education officials say son locked naked in seclusion room

A mother and father are suing the Alberta government and a school district over the treatment of their son.

Marcy Oakes and Warren Henschel said their 13-year-old son – who has developmental disabilities and autism – was locked, naked in an unsupervised seclusion room at Sherwood Park’s Clover Bar Junior High School in 2015. When school personnel checked on the boy they found he was smeared in feces, according to the couple. They claim school officials then took a photo of their son, sent it to them and told them to come and get him.

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READ MORE: New report finds systemic use of restraint and seclusion in B.C. schools

Oakes and Henschel said the experience left them shocked, horrified and overwhelmed with fear and anxiety. The parents said they never agreed to having their son locked in a seclusion room, nor was the procedure identified as part of their son’s positive behaviour support plan.

“He’s one of the strongest kids and to see what I saw, I’ve never seen that before,” Henschel said.

“My son does not take his clothes off willingly in a room unless he has been taught that,” Oakes said. “In the back of my mind, I will never know – because he can’t speak – how much they put him in that room.”

The parents said the lawsuit is not just about their son’s experience but about the broader use of seclusion rooms in schools.

“Staff, EAs (education assistants), the support staff, often they’re wonderful, kind-hearted, caring people, [but] they are not getting the proper training,” Oakes said. “Trust me, I get it, it comes from the big bank of government. This is why the change has to happen at the government level.”

Oakes and Henschel have since moved their son to a different school district where they say he is well-treated and safe.

READ MORE: Province releases guidelines on seclusion in schools as Salmon Arm boy’s story fuels debate

There is no jurisdiction in Canada that bans seclusion rooms. However, in a statement to Global News Friday morning, Education Minister David Eggen said a working group will be tasked with developing guidelines to make schools safer for students and teachers.

“I’m very concerned with this situation and student safety must always be a top priority,” Eggen said in a statement.

“Seclusion rooms should only be used as a last resort and I will be convening a working group of parents, teachers and advocates to develop a new set of guidelines for all Alberta schools to follow. This work will begin as soon as possible.”

READ MORE: Education minister says 61 Alberta schools still not complying with GSA rules

Inclusion Alberta – a non-profit organization that advocates on behalf of children with developmental disabilities and their families – is launching an online public survey to find out the prevalence of seclusion rooms and other restraints in Alberta schools.

The organization said it wants Alberta Education to take responsibility for ensuring the safety and rights of students with disabilities.

“It’s not just about the use of seclusion in this instance, it’s about the abandonment and neglect and abuse that any of us would typically understand in any other circumstances,” Inclusion Alberta CEO Bruce Uditsky said.

“How come it’s accepted and tolerated in a school where we expect children to be safe and we’re to trust educators?”

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