By: Kirsty Johnson

Children were repeatedly locked in a darkened, cell-like room at Miramar Central primary school as punishment for bad behaviour.

A Wellington school has been told to pay a family $3000 after it “unreasonably and oppressively” locked a disabled child in a time-out room multiple times.

Chief Ombudsman Peter Boshier recommended the payment and an apology in a finding on the complaint about seclusion of a child with autism at Miramar Central School.

The Herald first reported the school’s actions in 2016, after a behavioural therapist found her student, an 11-year-old autistic child, crying out “I’ll be good I’ll be good” from the locked room at lunchtime.

It was followed by stories about other schools using the practice. It prompted several investigations and a swift law change prohibiting locked seclusion rooms in schools.

Last month, when reporting his opinion concerning seclusion at Southland’s Ruru Specialist School, Boshier found the Ministry of Education had acted unreasonably in not providing schools with up-to-date and unambiguous guidance on the definition and use of seclusion.

He also found the Education Review Office needed systems for checking the use of rooms used for “time out” or managing challenging student behaviour.

Regarding the child at Miramar, Boshier said records showed that over a period of just three weeks in 2016 the boy was locked in what the school called its “time-out room” multiple times as a means of managing his behaviour.

“I found this use of the room was unacceptable,” he said.

The door to the time-out room at Miramar Central School

On the occasion when the boy’s therapist found him, it had transpired the child had been locked in the dark room for 10 minutes or longer.

“I feel the use of the time-out room for this purpose was oppressive in light of the circumstances in which the child was put in the room, his disabilities, the periods of time he spent in the room, and the lack of supervision,” Boshier said.

As well as the prohibition on locking children alone in rooms, the ministry had also provided updated guidelines to schools on ways to manage challenging student behaviour without using seclusion.

“The parents involved in the complaints at both Ruru and Miramar Central School have been instrumental in the law change, and I acknowledge their role in this,” he said.

Read the full report here.

Source: NZ Herald

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