Yukon education department not properly resourcing 'inclusion' effort, Jack Hulland parent says

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

A Jack Hulland Elementary School parent whose children have faced violence at the hands of other students says the territorial education department isn't providing the resources or plans needed for a safe, truly inclusive learning environment.

While the department promotes inclusion, Syvanna Schmidt told the CBC that she thinks both staff and students at Jack Hulland are being set up to fail because there's little being done to implement it effectively.

"You can put a child with extra needs into a regular classroom and say, 'Oh, well, they're included, their right to an education has been fulfilled,'" she said.

"But if that student can't integrate into a normal class and they don't have the supports in place, are you actually mandating and supporting inclusion?"

Schmidt, who has two sons attending Jack Hulland, said they've experienced or witnessed a number of violent incidents in recent years, including a group of older students wrapping a plastic bag around one of their heads on a school bus and a student pushing one of her sons into a wall by his neck and threatening to kill him.

Recently, Schmidt said, one of her sons witnessed a student swinging a chair around who refused to stop despite repeated verbal instructions from the teacher.

The teacher, according to Schmidt, eventually resorted to putting the student in a hold — grabbing him by his arms to get him to stop — and walking him to the office.

'A really complicated issue'

The Yukon RCMP is currently investigating the historic use of holds, restraints and seclusion against students at Jack Hulland, while the interim findings of an internal review ordered by the education department found all three were routinely used against students for not listening to staff.

The Yukon child and youth advocate has also launched her own review.

Schmidt, however, said she thought the use of restraints was "a really complicated issue," pointing to the situation her son witnessed involving the student swinging the chair.

"At what point do you draw the line and say, OK, you know, this kid's dangerous, he's going to harm someone — do you just stand back and leave it until he or she actually hurts someone?" she asked.

"Or can you safely hold the child and get them to a place where they are not a danger to themselves or a danger to others?"

The teacher who restrained the student with the chair was reported to the RCMP, which investigated but closed the case without laying charges, according to a Feb. 14 press release.

Schmidt said her son told her the student was "flailing" and swearing as the teacher led him to the office.

"I feel like it's easy as a parent —  like if I was the parent of that child —  I obviously would be upset that somebody is grabbing my child," she said.

"But at the same time, where's the responsibility in saying, well, the child shouldn't have been behaving the way … And then [as] a side caveat to that, if that student actually had the appropriate assessments and support or even classroom or learning environment, would that situation have even happened in the first place?"

Department says it takes student safety seriously

The Yukon Department of Education ignored the CBC's request for an interview.

In an email, spokesperson Sophie Best wrote that the department "takes the well-being, safety and protection of students in all schools very seriously." The email listed recent initiatives focused on Jack Hulland, including non-violent crisis intervention training for staff and the assignment of an associate superintendent to the school to provide administrative support until a full-time vice principal could be appointed.

"Jack Hulland Elementary is a vibrant and welcoming school with a diverse student population," Best wrote.

"The Jack Hulland school community is working hard to foster collaboration and common understanding to work together to ensure developmentally appropriate responses to elevated student behaviours are implemented."

She declined to comment on specific incidents outlined by Schmidt, citing student privacy.

Schmidt said that while she thought the department was good at making parents feel like their concerns were heard, "they don't really come to the table with any actual solutions or plans," such as how to integrate higher-needs children into larger classrooms or what to do with children who can't learn in a group setting.

"It's just lip service with no solutions and it doesn't go anywhere," Schmidt said.

As a result, she added, an unfair burden has been placed on teachers.

"They cannot be a social worker, a support person and a teacher and somebody implementing morals and discipline in students all in one —  that's not feasible, it doesn't make sense," she said.

"But to me, that's what the Department of Education has been expecting of the staff at Jack Hulland."

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