Mother pulls daughter from school after she was repeatedly restrained

By Cristina Howorun

“I took her out of school because Charlie was being restrained every day or every other day. Its like an ongoing thing,” Karen Marr told CityNews in her Etobicoke home.

Her daughter Charlie has been diagnosed with a severe intellectual disability with a cognitive delay. She is enrolled in a special education class with partial integration in the Kawartha Pine Ridge District School Board, although she lives in Toronto. The pair started commuting back and forth last year, staying with Marr’s mother in Haliburton, after she was advised that Kawartha could best address Charlie’s needs – but that might not be the case.

“She came home with someone else’s clothes on.” Marr said, and on asking Charlie the reason, she said “they were holding me down and I had to pee my pants.”

“Why would somebody hold a child down that hard that they have to urinate in their pants?” Marr questioned.

Charlie’s record shows she is regularly put in a variety of restraints by a group of teachers. Reasons for restraint from the February 2017 records include “not allowed to do something she wanted to do” and “setting events that occurred before school.” Marr claimed she has never been given complete explanations from the school.

Charlie, 11, exhibits behaviours of children around half her age and says she can’t recall why she’s been restrained so many times for so long.

“They never told me,” she said, but admits she has hit her teacher and another classmate on at least one occasion.

“There’s nothing that Charlie could ever do that would warrant that kind of force and five people holding her down,” Marr says.

Physical restraints are allowed in schools across the province – usually to prevent assaults or in self defence. Although most boards have a “no touch” policy for teachers to students, the rules for special education differ greatly.

“They are telling me that these restraints are going to be used across the board, no matter where she goes,” Marr said.

The Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario (ETFO) has guidelines for how restraints are used with exceptional students – even cautioning against repeated use.

A union document advises that “this can lead to a familiarity with physical interventions that engenders a routine or ease with physical intervention, not because it is always required. but because it is familiar and feels effective”

Marr believes restraining Charlie has become the school’s go-to solution, using up to five staff members to hold Charlie down.

“There’s no reason it should be happening two or three times a week,” she says.

CityNews showed pictures of Charlie’s injuries to Ministry staff but received no response to the images specifically.

“School boards are responsible for decisions relating to the safety and students and staff.” said Ministry spokesperson Heather Irwin in a statement. There are no provincial guidelines about best practices or any defined protocols for using restraints. It is dealt with at the discretion of individual boards.

“My expectation of boards is that they have policies in place so that when those instances occur they are reported and the health and safety of children is paramount to us,” Minister of Education Mitzie Hunter said, when asked about the use of physical restraints in schools.

For example, The Toronto District School Board does not permit the use of restraints for disciplinary purposes or to calm a student. They are to be used only until the student no longer poses a danger to themselves or others.

A 2009 Kawartha Pine Ridge District School Board document advises that “the intent of any restraint is to calm down the situation” and that “physical restraint is only used in situations where there is a physical aggression and as a last resort when someone presents a danger.” Representatives from the board have not responded to inquiries about this being the most current policy.

Moving forward, Karen hasn’t made a decision about Charlie’s education, but knows she has to return to school at some point – where or when is unclear.

“I’m not going to stand back and allow (Charlie to be restrained) anymore. Not anymore.”

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