Whitehorse RCMP investigating use of holds, isolation spaces at Jack Hulland Elementary School

·3 min read
Jack Hulland Elementary School in Whitehorse. (Google - image credit)
Jack Hulland Elementary School in Whitehorse. (Google - image credit)

Multiple investigations and reviews are underway into "the use of holds to restrain students and the use of isolation spaces" at Whitehorse's Jack Hulland Elementary School in the wake of growing concerns about violence and disruptions.

The Yukon Department of Education informed parents of investigations being led by the Whitehorse RCMP and the Yukon government's family and children's services branch via a letter on Nov. 22.

Education minister Jeanie McLean said in the Legislative Assembly the same day that her department was also conducting a "fact-finding review" to look at workplace risk assessments at the school "as well as other relevant reports involving the use of holds and isolation rooms over the last five years."

Yukon child and youth advocate Annette King, meanwhile, announced she was launching a systemic review into the issue the afternoon of Nov. 23.

Yukon RCMP spokesperson Const. Carlie McCann told CBC News in an email that police were made aware of "allegations" at 1 p.m. on Nov. 19 and "immediately" opened an investigation, but declined further comment.

It is unclear where the allegations originated.

The Yukon government did not make anyone available for comment on Nov. 23.

Children still getting good education, says ADM

In the letter to parents, the education department's assistant deputy minister of schools and student services, Ryan Sikkes, says the department has heard "concerns regarding violence and the effective management of, and responses to, student behaviours" over the past several months.

"These concerns are serious and you may have questions about your child's safety at school," the letter says. "Children at Jack Hulland are still getting a good education, and we are taking additional steps to ensure that any incidences of escalated behavior [sic] are dealt with appropriately."

Those steps include developing a "communications tool" and "emergency plans for when incidents do happen," according to the letter. There will also be more training for staff, the development of "a school-wide approach to responding, tracking and preventing escalated behaviours" and additional staff brought on-site.

The letter says the department "will be working closely and cooperating with the RCMP and Family and Children's Services as they complete their investigations," and that parents, in the meantime, will receive weekly reports from the school principal "that summarize the supports available and how the week went for students in the school."

Restraint use raises 'substantial question of public concern,' advocate says

In a press release, the child and youth advocate said her review was triggered by "recent reports of child restraints and confinement spaces" at Jack Hulland, and that the objective was "to ensure a coordinated response by Yukon Government to support children and their families in recovering from the harm caused by these alleged practices."

"The systemic issue of physical restraint and confinement at Jack Hulland raises a substantial question of public concern for students, particularly students with special needs," King said.

"We are alarmed by how many rights are violated by these alleged practices, and will structure our review according to how the government responds."

The press release says King has formally notified the departments of education, health and social services, and justice, of the review, and has requested "information regarding communication, status of investigation, therapeutic supports, and coordination of services."

This is the second school-related systemic review King has undertaken this year. She's also reviewing supports and safety at Hidden Valley Elementary School, which is at the centre of a sexual abuse scandal involving an educational assistant and multiple students.

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