Ontario schools draw outrage, lawsuit over handling of autistic students

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An autistic student may sometimes be hard to handle, but two different Ontario families are launching legal action  over some schools’ heavy-handed treatment of their children.

Earlier this week, Mississauga mom Karen Thorndyke slapped the Peel District School Board with a $16-million lawsuit that alleged her now-12-year-old son, Christian, was routinely confined in an isolated room without food, water or washroom access.

She claims that, since 2006, five different schools in the PDSB repeatedly confined her son in locked rooms after outbursts or other misbehaviour.

Among the troubling accusations in the statement of claim is that Christian was confined “in a solitary isolation room for several hours, sometimes for the duration of the entire school day,” during Grade 1 through Grade 3. The school apparently called the closet-sized room “Mexico,” that being more appealing than “solitary confinement.”

The defendants would allegedly sit in a chair buttressing the door to keep Christian from escaping.

The allegations go back as far as kindergarten, when a support worker would allegedly “place [Christian] in a chair and hold his arms tightly behind the back for certain periods of time.”

All that would seem to fly in the face of Ontario’s Education Act, which calls for “disciplinary approaches that promote positive behaviour and use measures that include appropriate consequences and supports for pupils to address inappropriate behaviour.”

The Act also spells out harsh penalties for students who bully or abuse a student due to “mental or physical disability,” but there’s nothing about a teacher tossing an autistic child in a closet for a full school day.

In Ottawa, more angry parents are calling for change and threatening legal action after their 9-year-old son was handcuffed during a violent outburst. Ottawa cops are investigating the incident after his parents filed an official complaint.

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