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School Notes: Byelection ahead and seclusion rooms

Sturgeon County residents will have a chance to shape young minds later this spring now that the local school board has called a byelection.
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Byelection ahead

Sturgeon County residents will have a chance to shape young minds later this spring now that the local school board has called a byelection.

The Sturgeon Public School board voted last week to call a byelection for Ward 4 Sturgeon Valley-West St. Albert.

Ward 4 trustee Shane Sherwin stepped down last September to attend to family matters, said board chair Terry Jewell. With three years left in the current term, the board decided to call a byelection so the people in this ward would have a representative.

Roughly speaking, Ward 4 covers the Sturgeon Valley, Big Lake, and St. Albert’s border regions, and extends west to Villeneuve and east to Hwy. 28. It includes Sturgeon Heights and Sturgeon Composite High.

Board trustees get to shape education policy at the local and provincial level, work with parent councils, and set budgets, Jewell said – the latter of which can be quite large.

“The biggest chunk of taxes and the largest budgets in St. Albert and Sturgeon are the school boards, so it’s lots of your tax money that’s being spent.”

Anyone who is 18 or older, a Canadian citizen and a resident of this ward for the six months prior to the election can vote, provided they are not part of a separate Roman Catholic school board, Jewell said – call the Sturgeon Public board office if you’re not sure.

If you can vote, you can also run for trustee provided you’re not the Sturgeon School board’s auditor or an employee of any school or school board on nomination day. You’ll need $25 and will have to get your nomination into the board office in Morinville by April 2, Jewell said. If at least two people put their names forward, there will be an election. The advance poll will be on April 25 at the board office and the regular poll will be at Sturgeon Heights School on April 30.

Questions on the byelection should go to the board office at 780-939-4341.

No rooms to ban

St. Albert and Sturgeon school officials say they won’t be affected by the province’s new ban on seclusion rooms, since they don’t have any.

Education Minister David Eggen issued a ministerial order last week banning the use of seclusion rooms in Alberta schools.

Seclusion rooms, as defined by the province, are rooms, structures or enclosures in schools run by a school board designed to involuntarily confine a student, from which the student cannot escape without help due to security measures such as a locked door.

Eggen struck a working group to review how these rooms were used last October after two parents took the province and Elk Island Public Schools to court, alleging their autistic son had been locked naked in such a room for about 45 minutes and became covered in faeces.

After advocacy groups criticized the government’s proposed guidelines for such rooms in February, Eggen announced he would ban them outright.

The ban requires school boards to tell the province which of their schools have seclusion rooms by March 29 and sign a declaration to close them by Aug. 30, 2019. The province will conduct inspections to ensure the rooms are eliminated. Boards can apply for exemptions if parents support the use of such rooms.

St. Albert Public, Sturgeon Public, Greater St. Albert Catholic, and North Central (Francophone) school officials reached by the Gazette confirmed their schools do not have seclusion rooms.

Many did, however, have “time-out,” “regulation,” or “sensory” rooms, which are unlocked, supervised rooms used with the consent of parents to help students manage behavioral issues (for example, anxiety) that could put themselves or others at risk. These rooms are part of a broader student support plan developed with the help of parents, are often used at the student’s request and may contain soft cushions or lighting to help students centre themselves.

Throwing a student in a room and locking the door goes against common sense and is not in a student’s best interest, said Ruth Kuik, deputy superintendent of education services for Sturgeon Public.

“What is in their best interest is to work with parents and determine what’s happening and what the best response would be.”

The ban kicks in Sept. 1. Visit bit.ly/2XCLbGQ for details.


Kevin Ma

About the Author: Kevin Ma

Kevin Ma joined the St. Albert Gazette in 2006. He writes about Sturgeon County, education, the environment, agriculture, science and aboriginal affairs. He also contributes features, photographs and video.
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