Whitehorse Daily Star

Investigation into disciplinary methods is over

A two-year police investigation into excessive disciplinary methods at Jack Hulland Elementary School is now finished – though the findings will not be made public, according to an RCMP spokesperson.

By Mark Page on September 15, 2023

A two-year police investigation into excessive disciplinary methods at Jack Hulland Elementary School is now finished – though the findings will not be made public, according to an RCMP spokesperson.

The RCMP announced the probe’s conclusion in a news release on Wednesday afternoon.

They said work is ongoing to prepare a comprehensive report that will be shared with the Public Prosecution Service of Canada.

The investigation began on Nov. 19, 2021, when the RCMP were made aware of concerns regarding the use of restraint holds and isolation spaces on disruptive students at the school.

Since then, multiple parents filed lawsuits against the Yukon government alleging the Department of Education failed in its res-ponsibility to provide a certain standard of care for their children.

On Sept. 6, the Yukon Supreme Court approved this suit to move forward as a class action.

The two representative plaintiffs in the case claim their children were routinely subjected to being physically restrained by staff and put into purpose-built isolation booths for long periods of time, while not being allowed washroom breaks and while being monitored by video-cameras.

According to affidavits filed in the lawsuit, some of the parents were not aware of what was happening at the school until they read a press release from the RCMP concerning the investigation back in 2021.

At this point, no allegations have been proven in court and no charges have been brought as a result of the investigation.

“While the conclusion of the RCMP’s investigation represents a significant milestone in this investigation, which has been ongoing since November 2021, it does not yet provide families with answers,” said a written statement from Education Minister Jeanie McLean. It was released shortly after the RCMP announced the end of the probe.

The investigation involved interviewing 190 individuals and reviewing more than 600 reports from the school, the Department of Education, parents and caregivers.

“The scope and scale of this investigation meant that it required significant resources and dedication from the officers involved,” reads the RCMP’s release.

“The investigators want to thank all those who have come forward to speak with police and share their experiences as part of the investigation.”

It is unclear whether any of the documents reviewed by police are the same as those that one of the plaintiffs reported in an affidavit she had unsuccessfully tried to obtain from the school.

She had sought records of each incident involving her own child that resulted in a restraint hold or isolation, but was told there was a court order preventing the school from giving them to her.

James Tucker, the lawyer representing the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, told the Star there was in fact no such court order, and that he was hoping the documents would turn up during the discovery phase in which the government will be legally compelled to provide them to plaintiffs.

Updates on the investigation were provided directly to witnesses in the case through Jack Hulland school communications channels or through victim services.

The RCMP said these people were informed a day before the public announcement of the investigation’s conclusion.

In McLean’s written statement following the RCMP announcement, she acknowledged the need for change in Yukon schools.

“Over the past two years, our government has been working to bring about meaningful, systemic change at the Department of Education, improving accountability and oversight in Yukon schools with the goal of making schools safer for students,” she said in 
the statement.

The class action lawsuit contends the Department of Education had a responsibility to oversee the school and any policies relating to holds, restraints and seclusion.

The plaintiffs plan to use the expert testimony of Nadine Bartlett, a professor at the University of Manitoba specializing in education and child behaviour, to establish what constitutes standard practice for the use of restraints and holds in schools.

Allegations contained in plain-tiffs’ affidavits say staff at the school used restraint techniques and isolated students in response to behavioural issues even when they did not pose any physical danger to themselves or others.

“Assuming that students were restrained or secluded when there was no risk of physical harm, it would be possible to establish that this practice contravened the accepted standard,” Bartlett wrote in a report provided to the court.

Her report also says that if it can be established that seclusion spaces were used to hold students for extended periods of time while monitoring them by videotape from another room, that this also contravenes the accepted standard of practice.

In a statement of defence, the government disputed this characterization of these spaces and denied most of the specific allegations in the lawsuit.

The statement from McLean said the department has introduced a values and ethics code at schools and provided new territory-wide guidance on post-incident communication.

McLean also says that at Jack Hulland specifically, teachers have completed several new training programs, including training aimed at non-violent crisis intervention.

McLean’s statement also commits to a similar standard as that laid out by Bartlett.

“In May 2022, a letter was issued to staff clarifying that isolation is never an acceptable practice to use with students, and that holds should only be used by persons trained and certified in Non-violent Crisis Intervention when there is an immediate risk or serious physical harm to the student or those around them,” reads her statement.

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