'reckless actions' | 

Gardai investigate teacher for alleged assault after child was left in ‘sensory room’

It is claimed a boy with special educational needs was placed in a sensory room without parental permission

Wayne O'ConnorSunday Independent

Gardaí have investigated a teacher in the west of the country after it was claimed a child with special educational needs was placed in a sensory room without parental permission.

The child’s treatment is also the subject of complaints to the school and its board of management.

The garda case relates to use of a sensory room at a school amounting to an alleged assault.

It is alleged the school contacted the boy’s parents about allowing staff to occasionally place him in the sensory room but permission was refused because there was no expert recommendation or medical and therapeutic advice around this child using it.

A source told the Sunday Independent a complaint was made to gardaí about the teacher in June. It led to multiple garda interviews and the examination of correspondence between the school and the child’s family.

A file was sent to the Director of Public Prosecutions on the matter.

While it is not alleged the teacher intentionally tried to harm the child, it is claimed they acted recklessly.

The Non-Fatal Offences Against the Person Act states an assault can relate to the reckless use of force against a person. The use of force may include the use of light and sound.

While sensory rooms, which are sometimes available in schools as a pod or cubby, may be used with light and sounds to have a calming effect, there are concerns the settings applied in the sensory room in this case aggravated the child and contributed to a deterioration in his well-being.

Around the period the room was in use, the child’s form and behaviour is reported to have deteriorated significantly. It was claimed the boy became unsettled, it was difficult getting him to sleep at night, and he became aggressive and increasingly agitated. He also became more sensitive to sound.

There were other concerns about how the boy was treated at the school, separate to the garda complaint, according to a source. These include that the child was isolated from peers and the school community when a communication aid he uses was removed shortly after he started attending the school.

Concerns were also raised that he may have been isolated and left alone in rooms during school hours. Inclusion Ireland, a national association for people with an intellectual disability, has labelled the seclusion of students “archaic”. It called for child well-being to be at the heart of new government guidelines around these issues.​

This newspaper has been made aware of nine families who have complained about their children being isolated from classes or left alone in rooms. Some have taken legal action against schools.

It has also emerged that some schools are asking parents to sign non-disclosure agreements, also known as gagging clauses, as part of settlements to prevent them highlighting cases where their child was isolated, excluded or victimised by poor practices.

As schools are separate legal entities, the Department of Education is not regularly made aware of cases taken against schools or boards of management.

However, the department said children should be educated in the most inclusive environment possible. A spokeswoman said the department is considering new draft guidelines recently drawn up by a working group “on the prevention and management of challenging behaviours” in schools for cases where it may present a “serious risk of physical harm” to a student or others.

They focus on “prevention and early intervention strategies for the management of crisis student behaviour” and “physical intervention” would be the last part of a “comprehensive, positive and planned behavioural approach” under the draft measures.

“They are underpinned by the principles that such intervention is never used for the purposes of discipline; that it should be applied proportionately and should last only as long as is necessary to de-escalate the situation,” she added.

“The guidelines underline the importance of continued supervision of children during a crisis period including matters related to behaviour and the need for such incidents to be recorded.”

Final guidelines are expected to be published after a consultation process and contributions considered during it.​​​​​​​​​​​​​​

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