Exclusive: Herald investigation sparks legislative change banning punishment rooms in Kiwi schools.

Seclusion rooms at schools will be made illegal under new legislation proposed by education minister Hekia Parata.

The minister wants to permanently ban teachers locking children away in the typically small and isolated rooms, in the same way corporal punishment was prohibited in 1989.

It comes after the Herald revealed last month at least 10 children had been placed in a cupboard-like "cell" at a Wellington primary school as punishment, including pupils with special needs.

One boy, an 11-year-old autistic child, was discovered crying out "I'll be good, I'll be good" from the locked room at Miramar Central School during lunchtime.

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An investigation sparked by his mother's complaint, made in July this year, found the boy had been placed in the room 13 times in the space of just nine days. It later emerged children as young as six years old had also been in the room.

The incident was the second within two years. The first, when a 13-year-old boy attending a special school was put in a time-out room, prompted the development of seclusion and restraint guidelines.

Those guidelines will be released today, alongside a letter to all schools asking they stop using the rooms. Support will be provided to schools which need assistance.

"In today's world there is no situation where it is acceptable for seclusion to be used in schools or early childhood education services, so I want to make that clear in the law," Parata said.

The minister will invite the Education and Science committee to add a supplementary order to its update of the Education Act.

She said while she expected there would be hearings, there was nothing to presuppose that the new law would not pass.

"While once this practice was accepted in the 80s and 90s, it no longer is," she said.

She said given the experts writing the guidelines had also raised the issue of the legality of secluding schoolchildren, it made sense to her to seek to legislate against it following the Miramar incident.

"I was horrified about the situation. I was horrified they were locked in from outside and that there was a six-year-old involved. That parents hadn't been aware. It is intolerable."

Not only were there "significant physical and psychological risks" in placing a child alone in a room, and it also presented serious health and safety risks in the event of an emergency such as a fire, she said.

Seclusion is defined as the practice of a student being involuntarily placed alone in a room at any time or for any duration, from which they cannot freely exit or believe they cannot freely exit.

Schools will still be able to use "time out" rooms, where a student voluntarily takes themselves to an agreed space or unlocked room, like a sensory room, to calm down; or when a teacher prompts a disruptive student to work in another space, as the ministry recognised the need to keep everyone safe.

A survey to determine exactly how many schools were using the practice was ongoing, the Ministry of Education said.

There was also an Ombudsman investigation into the practice, which would examine any potential wrongdoing by government agencies. It was announced after the mother of the 11-year-old at Miramar made a complaint.

The Children's Commissioner has said it will support that investigation, as would the Disability Rights Commissioner and Autism New Zealand.

The Ministry of Education has also apologised to the minister and parents for its handling of the situation.

Timeline
July - mother discovers child locked in seclusion room at Miramar Central School, complains to board and ministry of education
September - investigation into use of room completed, deemed "outmoded" but not illegal
October 10 - New Zealand Herald exposes the use of the room
October 12 - More parents come forward to confront the school
October 14 - Ombudsman announces independent investigation into the use of seclusion
October 21 - Ministry apologies to parents and minister for its handling of the situation
November 3 - Education minister Hekia Parata announces she will seek to make seclusion in schools illegal