The office of the Child and Youth Advocate says parents and children are not being centered in investigations into physical discipline used at Jack Hulland School.
Annette King’s concerns follow allegations of forcible holds and isolation spaces used on children with behavioural difficulties at Jack Hulland. RCMP investigated a use-of-force incident from Jan. 27 but no charges were laid.
Police still have an open, ongoing investigation into historic reports of the use of force at the school and the Yukon government is holding their own review into workplace risk.
But King said her office is concerned that the stories of children and parents are not the centre of those investigations.
“These investigations are not looking at the impacts on children who endured or witnessed the harmful practices,” states Annette King, Child and Youth Advocate. “Instead, we are holding onto these stories. It is our role to amplify the voices and promote the rights of young people. We can’t be part of keeping the silence.”
King said individual stories from children and parents include alleged incidents where students were dragged from classrooms and down hallways, the use of physical restraints leading to bruises, and a place called “The Nest” or “study hall” that contained isolation spaces with locked doors.
Education Minister Jeanie McLean’s office sent a follow-up letter responding to her concerns, tabled in the legislature on March 31, detailing a number of meetings between King and the department. The letter admonishes the office for putting out a public press release.
“It is incumbent on all officials responding to this matter to ensure we do not do anything that could jeopardize the integrity of these ongoing investigations,” reads the letter.
“To be clear, we have taken an active and coordinated approach to this matter since it was first brought to our attention. We responded immediately to inform the school about the investigation into the use of holds and restraints at the school and have provided regular updates to the school community,” it continues.
The Grove Street program, which is a supported education initiative for students with social, emotional and behavioural difficulties, was formerly operated out of the school. McLean said the sole child that was left in the program has been transitioned into other supports.
McLean said in addition to the criminal RCMP investigation — which the department is fully cooperating with — the government has also contracted a law firm to review the workplace risk assessment.
She said all incidents at the school are documented and a working group has been launched to coordinate investigations. Staff at Jack Hulland also undertook nonviolent crisis intervention training in February.
“It’s really every emphasizing the policies and procedures that we already have in our schools,” she said.
The Education department is currently working on a review of special education in the Yukon, after separate auditor general’s reports in 2009 and 2019 found children were being left behind in the territory.
“Governments need to take these types of reviews and assessments seriously and implement them,” McLean said March 31, responding to reporters’ questions after the legislature sitting.
“I wonder if we would be here today dealing with this issue that’s arisen in Jack Hulland or other issues in other schools if the work had been done in a timely manner. If government had taken it seriously, when they received it,” she said.
King said meanwhile, the physical discipline and lack of transparency have created a divide among school staff between “those who are uncomfortable with the culture, and others who embrace it.”
In her release, King said she has raised concern about “political interference” in how the government is handling the situation, claiming that current and former staff are nervous about speaking up and administrative staff who have expressed discomfort have been reassigned.
“To be frank, I have directly asked the Minister and Deputy Minister of Education about political interference. As one former Jack Hulland parent told me: ‘The partisan politics, personal careers, and the remuneration of senior bureaucrats is coming at the expense of the education, safety, care and welfare of children,’” said King.
Education Minister Jeanie McLean denied that allegation.
“There’s been absolutely no political interference from myself or anyone else that I’m aware of,” she said. “One of the things, when I took office, is I swore an oath to take on this position and I take that responsibility very, very seriously.”
Contact Haley Ritchie at firstname.lastname@example.org