Eight special schools have been identified as having seclusion rooms, the Minister of Education has revealed.
It comes in the wake of damning revelations revealed in the Herald earlier this month that at least 10 children had been placed in a dim, cupboard-sized room at Miramar Central School during the last year, including pupils with special needs.
Its use was discovered after a behavioural therapist arrived at the school to find her student, an 11-year-old autistic child, crying out "I'll be good, I'll be good" from the locked room at lunchtime.
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• Ombudsman launches investigation of seclusion rooms in schools
Today Education Minister Hekia Parata revealed eight special schools are currently using seclusion rooms.
However, she did not say how many state schools were also using them.
In a response to a written question by the Green Party's education spokeswoman Catherine Delahunty, the Minister said: "This week, the Ministry has advised me that, of the 64 special schools in New Zealand, fewer than 10 are currently using a seclusion room.
"The Ministry will work with these schools to put in place safer and more effective ways of managing challenging behaviour."
Her response did not identify which schools were currently using seclusion rooms - classed as a room where a child is involuntarily placed, which they cannot freely exit, and where the door may be locked.
It also referred to 64 special schools in New Zealand. The current schools directory lists 38.
Parata clarified that eight special schools are currently using seclusion rooms, and that the Ministry is surveying all state schools to see how many are also currently using them.
The issue of such rooms was "an operational matter for the Secretary for Education", Parata said, adding their use was "unacceptable" and "unlawful".
Schools which had used them had "fallen foul of existing requirements", she said.
"I am advised schools are not required to report to the Ministry of Education about the use of time out and seclusion rooms," Parata said.
"I have sought urgent advice from the Ministry on the use of seclusion rooms across all schools."
Parata said she had been made aware of two complaints regarding seclusion rooms - one at Miramar Central School, and the other was the subject of a police complaint.
She then "urgently" directed the Ministry to survey all schools to establish whether any other schools have such rooms, she said.
"That process is not yet complete. I have made it clear that seclusion is an unacceptable practice, and a working group from the sector has been developing guidelines on better restraint and behaviour management practices, which are shortly to be published."
However, Delahunty criticised the Minister's response, for only referring to special schools, when the question related to all schools.
"Miramar Central is not a special school and was using one as recently as September 20, so how many other schools are doing the same?" she told the Herald.
"All children and their families deserve better than this, and the Minister has responsibility for action, not just to rely upon unenforceable guidelines.
"The bottom line is that children should not be kept in small, dark, locked rooms, and the Minister needs to ensure it stops immediately."
Parata should direct all schools to stop using seclusion rooms, she later added.
"Parents should not have to wait for the Ministry of Education's survey to be completed - the Minister should issue a blanket order for them to be decommissioned immediately."
In response to written questions from the Green Party, the Minister revealed that she has known about Miramar Central School using a seclusion room since July 28. Between then and September 20, the room was used more than once a week, on 13 more occasions.
"As soon as the Minister knew about the seclusion room at Miramar Central School, on July 28th, she should have acted to decommission it," Delahunty said.
"For 18 months, possibly even longer, the Minister has known about the usage of seclusion rooms in Aotearoa. She says that she has been working on guidelines, but these guidelines will not stop children being mistreated and kept in seclusion rooms."
Last Friday, Chief Ombudsman Peter Boshier announced an investigation into the use of seclusion rooms.
The investigation will consider the actions of the schools concerned, the extent of the practice, and any related actions or omissions of Government agencies, he said.
The use of the room at Miramar Central was largely unknown within the community. It was not included in behaviour plans or mentioned on the school's websites. Not every case was recorded in the log.
Miramar Central School has since said it would stop using the room.