|In an attempt to deal with his behavior at school Casper McBride age 4 of Portage View Public School in Barrie, Ont., has been placed in a padded room several times in an attempt to self regulate him self. This practice was a complete surprise to his mother, Hayley McBride. (Mark Wanzel/QMI AGENCY)
BARRIE, Ont. -- Hayley McBride's initial tour of Portage View Public School did not include a visit to the special padded room they've set aside for unruly children.
McBride, 25, of Barrie, said she met with school administrators about her four-year-old son Casper's independent education plan (IEP) to discuss her concerns about his impulsive behaviour.
"But I stressed, integrate, do not segregate him from his classmates," said McBride, a second-year computer programming student at Georgian College.
But when McBride showed up for her parent-teacher interview on the wrong day this week, she didn't want to waste the trip, so she had Casper show her around his new school.
They looked at the colourful library and gymnasium, and then Casper opened a door to what looked like a closet with padded walls.
McBride asked her son what the room was used for and he said, "They throw me in here sometimes."
"I was absolutely shocked, disgusted and scared for my son," she said. "It's like they're being punished for having a disability."
The small room measures about six-by-six feet and has thick padded grey walls, a padded floor and the inside of the door is padded around the window.
When McBride cautiously asked her son what he does when he's in there, she said he promptly laid down on the floor.
She also claims there were stains on the floor.
"I'm going to be an optimist and say maybe some children were allowed to eat their lunch in there and spilled some apple juice or orange juice," she said. "But my fear is the stains on the floor are urine or vomit."
McBride said when she asked staff, she was told her son had been sent into the room three times.
"I never agreed to this. I wanted to know how long he was in there? Can he get out? Sure there's a window, but he'd have to stand on his tippy-toes to see out of it. The first month of school, he said he hated it and I was surprised because he'd loved daycare.
"But for the first little while, he couldn't sleep, he was having night terrors. I mean, is this why?"
The Simcoe County District School Board has a memo dated Feb. 24, 2010, that describes using calming rooms as a proactive self-regulation strategy.
The report states that "the main purpose of the room is to teach de-escalation strategies, resulting in the reduction of challenging behaviours."
In the board's memorandum, the calming room rules state that children must go there voluntarily and it should not be used "as a disciplinary measure or as punishment for inappropriate behaviour."
The children are never to be left alone or unattended and it must have a window.
Yet, the memo notes that other modes of calming students should also include timeouts and playing with a buddy in an unsupervised area, or having a red "break" card where the child is allowed to put their heads down on their desk without penalty, or go to another location in the school.
It also clearly states parents must be advised of the use of the room, which McBride said never happened.
Portage View principal Peter McKenna said he can't comment specifically on McBride's child and her concerns.
McKenna said the room is used with the parent's permission through a signature on the IEP, and would be used when they're concerned for the safety of the child or for another child.
"Every other means would be used to de-escalate a situation and it would be used as a last resort," McKenna said.
When asked if he has concerns about sending a very young in child there, he said, "Yes."
He said he's previously worked at a school that didn't have a calming room and they managed without it.
Peter Gumbrell, principal of special education at the board office, said the rooms are used as one of many "self-regulating strategies for students to teach them to how to recognize their feelings."
He said the board initially spoke with several other school boards about the padded rooms. He wasn't certain which school boards they'd spoken to, but believed it was probably the Toronto District School Board and the York Region School Board.
"It's not a secret, we had a public process, it's on the board's website and we talked to parents about it," Gumbrell said.
It's not the first time the board has been called to task for its treatment of special-needs children. Reports of large, red blocker shields being used as protective equipment by staff working with special needs students outraged parents when they discovered their use earlier this year.
Barrie MPP Rod Jackson had put forward a private member's bill to ban the use of the foam pads, but it's in limbo until parliament reconvenes next spring.
As for McBride, she said if she didn't know the room existed, she wouldn't have known to ask about it.
McBride said she can't understand what threat a four-year-old could be and how her little son could have been sent there three times without her permission.
"They never told us he was in a calming room," she said, adding the education assistants at Portage View have been wonderful with her son and doesn't blame them.
"But there's a rubber room my son's being sent to without my permission. There's a real problem here," McBride said. "About 99.9% of the mothers I mentioned this to said they didn't know about it and would never allow their children to go there."