Seclusion to be made illegal in schools

By Online News - Rereātea

Education Minister Hekia Parata is proposing to make the use of seclusion in schools illegal.

The Ministry of Education is also releasing guidance developed by an Advisory Group so that all schools can have a clear understanding of what is modern practice for dealing with challenging behaviour.

Parata says, “The vast majority of schools have good practices in place for managing the challenging behaviour of a small number of students in a safe and inclusive way. I appreciate this can be very difficult. But in today’s world there is no situation where it is acceptable for seclusion to be used in schools or early childhood education services, so I want to make that clear in the law.”

Ms Parata’s proposal will make it illegal for schools and early childhood education (ECE) services to use seclusion, which is defined as the practice of a student being involuntarily placed alone in a room at any time or for any duration, from which they cannot freely exit or believe they cannot freely exit. Seclusion in the form of solitary confinement is already prohibited under early childhood regulations. The proposed legislation will include ECE services to ensure consistency across the education sector.

Parata says, “It’s important to note that seclusion is not the same as ‘time out’, where a student voluntarily takes themselves to an agreed space or unlocked room, like a sensory room, to calm down; or when a teacher prompts a disruptive student to work in another space.

Parents and I have to trust that schools are providing safe, inclusive learning environments for every child and young person, and we know that most schools do a good job of this. In instances where a student exhibits violent or extremely disruptive behaviour, it’s important that other students and teachers are protected and that learning can continue to happen.”

To support this, the Ministry of Education has been working with a cross-sector Advisory Group to develop Guidance for New Zealand Schools on Behaviour Management to Minimise Physical Restraint.

Parata says, “There are times when involuntary detention is necessary and lawful in other environments outside of school, when undertaken with appropriate checks and balances. For example, in youth justice and mental health jurisdictions.

However, the use of seclusion in schools and ECE services is no longer appropriate at any time. There are significant physical and psychological risks in placing a child alone in a room from which they cannot freely exit. It also presents serious health and safety risks in the event of an emergency such as a fire. These are risks we cannot allow at any school or ECE service.

The Ministry of Education is in the process of finalising a survey of all schools to determine the number that use seclusion. I am assured by the results so far that the issue is not widespread.”

But the Green Party remain critical, saying Parata knew about seclusion rooms for more than a year without acting.

Green Party education spokesperson Catherine Delahunty says, “It’s a bit rich for Hekia Parata to now claim credit for making seclusion rooms illegal, when she could have taken this action more than a year ago when seclusion rooms were first in the media."