FOR RELEASE – March 29, 2022
Child Advocate concerned with inadequate government action in investigation at Jack Hulland Elementary School
The Yukon Child and Youth Advocate Annette King is pushing Yukon Government to respond with stronger and more decisive action regarding the allegations of forcible holds and isolation spaces at Jack Hulland Elementary School. The practices were allegedly used over many years at the school and came to light last November after departmental attempts to change the approach to discipline. Despite a joint investigation between the RCMP and Family and Children’s Services, launched in November 2021, students and families have not yet been interviewed. They also haven’t been involved in the investigation being conducted by the Department of Education.
“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.”
The investigations at Jack Hulland Elementary School come in the wake of events at Hidden Valley Elementary School, where a former Educational Assistant has been convicted of sexual interference with a student in his care. Multiple other charges are still before the courts. Following an independent review, the Department of Education created an action plan to address gaps in their incident policies and procedures.
“Yukon government promised things would change,” states King. “From my observations, any lessons learned regarding communication with families and providing timely therapeutic supports have not been applied to this situation. Instead, students are transferring out of Jack Hulland Elementary School in search of a more welcoming and safe learning environment.” In advocating for multiple students on an individual basis, the Advocate has heard stories about students being 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. The Advocate believes that parents of students at Jack Hulland may not be aware of the extent to which punitive measures have been applied nor the escalation of violence created by these approaches. They point to a broader trend of physical discipline, lack of transparency, and a divide among school staff between those who are uncomfortable with the culture, and others who embrace it.
Although the investigation is looking into past incidents, we have heard from current and former staff who are nervous about challenging ‘the way that things have been done at Jack Hulland,’” says King. “We are also increasingly uncomfortable with a trend of administrative staff who have spoken out about the situation being reassigned shortly after. 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.’”
In alignment with the mandate of the Child and Youth Advocate Office, the Advocate hopes to keep children’s rights at the centre of any investigation, policy creation, and media coverage. “Children have a right to learn in a safe environment and a right to be disciplined in a manner that preserves their dignity,” says King. “When harmed, they have a right to healing and recovery. We are most concerned about children and their families living in shame and disengaged from school and community.”
The Yukon Child and Youth Advocate’s Office will continue to encourage Yukon Government to provide therapeutic supports to impacted families while holding them to their commitment to communicate clearly with the Jack Hulland community about the ongoing investigation.
The Yukon Child and Youth Advocate Office is an independent office of the Legislative Assembly committed to upholding children’s rights and amplifying the views of young people. The operations of the office are guided by the Child and Youth Advocate Act. Children, youth or others concerned about a child or youth receiving services within Yukon Government can contact the Child and Youth Advocate Office at (867) 456-5575.
Systemic Advocacy Analyst Yukon Child and Youth Advocate Office