Nine new affidavits have been filed detailing the use of “isolation cells” and physical restraints at Jack Hulland Elementary School.
The affidavits were filed with an application to turn the lawsuit, which was initially filed by the guardians of two former students, into a class action representing all students who experienced holds, restraints or isolation between January 2002 and June 2022.
The department of Education and the Jack Hulland school council are listed as defendants. A defence has not yet been filed, and the allegations have not been proven in court.
The application claims the disciplinary measures amount to assault and battery, false imprisonment and negligence. A former superintendent alleges that child abuse occurred.
Donna Miller-Fry was superintendent of Jack Hulland’s catchment area for 16 months, from January 2021 to April 2022. She filed an affidavit to the court on Feb. 14.
Miller-Fry describes becoming quickly acquainted with problems at the school. Within a week, the principal reported an education assistant “slamming [a child] down on a mat” in the Grove Street program portable.
A workplace investigation was launched with the department’s Student Support Services branch, who reported “grave concerns” that children were being harmed in school.
Miller-Fry learned there was a long history of teachers restraining kids. She was told of the “Nest” or study hall, which was a classroom outfitted with four small cubicles and used to place children into solitary confinement, sometimes for hours at a time.
Three months later, student support services told Miller-Fry they would no longer provide teachers with nonviolent crisis intervention training, as teachers seemed to needlessly favour the ninth module, which coaches on restraints as a last resort.
“Their reasoning was that Jack Hulland staff were not interested in de-escalation,” Miller-Fry said.
Student support services said children were being permitted to escalate and then restrained or secluded. They observed increased physical intervention in classrooms after crisis training, with no evidence that parents were contacted or the situation debriefed according to protocol.
“During this meeting, the [student support services] staff used the words ‘child abuse’ many times,” Miller-Fry said.
Five new affidavits filed by former students and parents on Feb. 14 describe physical discipline dating back to 2005.
One student recalled being carried by the limbs, suspended “like a flying squirrel” to the principal’s office or study hall. She would frequently spend most of the school day in a study hall cubicle, which was so small she couldn’t extend her arms without touching a wall.
She recounts asking to call her mom and go home. Her request was refused, so she tried to escape by climbing over the top divider. She says butter was then smeared on the top, so it was too slippery to escape.
Multiple affidavits describe the cubicles as poorly lit, measuring three-by-three feet and monitored by a security camera. A former school counsellor alleged that the doors opened outward, so they would be barricaded with chairs.
One former student said he would often hear other children “scream and bang on the walls of their cells” while in study hall. The former counsellor recalls a student breaking a window, while another scraped the walls with a fork provided to eat his lunch in isolation.
Another student who claims holds and isolation were used on her at the school said she dropped out after leaving Jack Hulland and has no plans to complete her diploma. In her affidavit, she describes suicidal thoughts beginning in Grade 5 and persistent nightmares for several years afterwards, as well as experiencing “immense fear and anxiety” in school or office settings.
The nine new affidavits include five from Jack Hulland parents.
Multiple parents said they demanded that the school stop using holds and isolation, but were ignored. In several cases, parents said the severity of the situation was discovered years later, as kids didn’t want to admit they were getting into trouble at school at the time.
Parents also reported a decline in their kids’ emotional regulation and behaviour.
One parent alleged that her child became increasingly erratic and aggressive over seven years at Jack Hulland, eventually attempting suicide on school grounds. After leaving the school that year, they were hospitalized twice “due to mental breakdowns” and admitted to care outside the territory.
Another parent said she is still fighting to retrieve the Workplace Risk Assessments (WRAs) that detail incidents involving her child at Jack Hulland. She says the principal told her there are more than 100 in her child’s file – but several months of chasing the Education department for the file have been fruitless.
In her affidavit, Miller-Fry describes her last six months of employment with the Education department. She was terminated in April 2022.
Miller-Fry says she began hunting for documentation in early November 2021, and was pointed towards the WRAs. Most vaguely described using intervention training, but others recounted children being “dragged down hallways against their will” and physically restrained for long periods of time. She also heard that a student support services employee had attempted reporting the treatment several times.
She reported the evidence to Ryan Sikkes, the assistant deputy minister of Education. Five days later, Sikkes assured her that Nicole Morgan, the deputy minister, “was fully aware” of what was happening.
Miller-Fry says she submitted a report to RCMP that day.
In January, police reported that more than 150 people had been interviewed as part of the ongoing investigation.
The class action application will be heard by the Yukon Supreme Court in June.
Correction: An earlier version of this article erroneously referred to Student Support Services as social services on second reference. The News regrets this error and any confusion it may have caused.
Contact Gabrielle Plonka at email@example.com