Board urged to dump blockers 0
It still hurts Connie Harrison to remember the teasing and torment she faced as a child with autism.
She cringes to think of how her son, Boris, will be treated with the use of foam blockers at his school suggesting he's "a beast."
"I'm here in solidarity with my son, Boris. We're both on the Alist. I'm just on the other end of the spectrum," said the Toronto resident, whose 18-year-old non-verbal autistic son lives at a Barrie group home and attends Barrie North Collegiate.
"My son is a human being and has rights. All his life, I've fought for his dignity and for him to be included. Seeing that picture of the teachers using these big red blockers on the street with him, it looks like he was being herded down the street," Harrison said.
"It will make people think 'what's wrong with him that he needs those blockers around him? Is he dangerous?'"
Harrison was one of a handful of parents and organization members who made delegations earlier this week at a consultation meeting with the Simcoe County District School Board.
The meeting, held at the education centre in Midhurst, was meant to share information and gain public feedback on the use of foam blocker shields as protective equipment to keep school staff and students safe against uncontrollable behaviour from special needs children.
"It's an opportunity for us to hear from you," said Phyllis Hili, a superintendent of education for the board. "Feedback will be reviewed by our administrative team. We want you to know that your input is crucial."
The public was invited to submit feedback in writing to the board, and have a chance to address their submission.
Harrison was one of a few parents who expressed their disgust with the use of the blockers.
"I am sad because I trusted and believed in your board. Now I don't know what to believe," she said. "I understand about worker safety... But I wish someone would fight for my son's rights."
Local dad Mark Bryan was also against blockers as a form of intervention.
"I'm a parent of several children with exceptionalities and thankfully we haven't encountered this issue (personally) yet," Bryan said. "I just hope the board hasn't settled for the path of less resistance on this issue. I was very disappointed that the presentation was heavily slanted toward the Ontario Health and Safety Act."
During the board's information session, associate director Janis Medysky told an audience of two dozen people about the rules and regulations the board must follow to protect staff dealing with special needs children daily.
"There are nearly 5,000 employees within the school board, and it's my responsibility to make sure they are safe while at work," Medysky said. "We really are governed by a lot of legislation surrounding the behaviour management of students and personal protection equipment."
Peter Gumbrell, the board's principal of special education, said the use of the blockers is justified depending on the situation.
"We would first try to understand the function of the student's behaviour in context. Maybe something in the environment or in their routine could have changed to cause the problem," he explained. "Management of the behaviour is key, and if that is unsuccessful and you have a highly escalated stud e nt and we aren't able to manage or physically restrain them, we would see the foam shields used."
But representatives from organizations working with special needs individuals wouldn't accept any implications that blockers are acceptable for use.
"I've seen my fair share of behaviour issues with children with mental health issues, and there are very effective approaches to de-escalate the behaviours," said Glen Newby, president of New Path in Barrie. "But one must question the size, colour and implications of these blockers.
"It is my opinion that there will always be times when physical intervention will be needed, and I don't like to say that," he added. "I would suggest a county-wide process to share our thoughts on de-escalating behaviours with the least intrusive methods."
Margaret Spoelstra, executive director of Autism Ontario, sugge s te d a closer partnership between parents, schools, the board and local organizations needs to be formed.
"The dialogue is crucial with something as contentious as this issue," she said. "The blocker shields are very stigmatizing and they're just not working."
Officials from Simcoe Community Services also supported a motion made by the board's Special Education Advisory Committee (SEAC) made to abolish blocker use in schools.
"We are in support of the SEAC recommendation for the cease of use of blocker shields," said CEO Marion Peck in a letter to the board. "We share concerns that this time of behaviour is unacceptable."
Vicki Howard, the organization's family services manager, expressed opposition as well.
"We can't say there's never a place for these blockers, but we would never con-d one the use of them ourselves," Howard said.
Feeback will be accepted until May 18 at 4 p.m. Send submissions to Janis Medysky at 1170 Highway 26, Midhurst, ON, L0L 1X0 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Submissions will be included in a report by the board's senior administration team to be presented to trustees on June 13.