‘It’s torture’: Boy on autism spectrum repeatedly placed in seclusion room at Montreal school, family alleges

“It's torture,” says Yana Polyakova after her son, diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, was placed multiple times in a seclusion room at his elementary school. A practice she describes as discriminatory and abusive. Felisha Adam reports.

A Montreal family is speaking out after their son, who is on the autism spectrum, was put in a seclusion room more than once at his elementary school.

The family says 10-year-old Gani Zholtayeva was repeatedly placed in a “quiet” room at his school – Parkdale Elementary – by himself for close to an hour.

“It absolutely doesn’t do the purpose. It’s not education. It’s not inclusive education. It’s torture,” said Yana Polyakova, the boy’s mother.

Gani’s parents say it resulted in him becoming agitated and hurting himself. The family calls it a discriminatory and abusive practice that primarily impacts children with special needs and are calling for it to stop.

The parents say when the new school year started in September, they started to notice worrying signs.

“He came home very distressed, crying,” recalled Polyakova. “We could see that he’s crying. And they took his face and he had two dark blue bruises under his eyes – very scary.”

Becoming increasingly worried, Polyakova inquired about the injuries and was told by the school there was nothing to be worried about. The school reportedly told her Gani was being violent and because of that he was placed in a “calming” room.

“We started to see resistance going to school,” said Polyakova. “Sometimes he would come back with bruises, bumps, injuries.”

Gani Zholtayeva (left) with his mother Yana Polyakova and father Temir Zholtayev at the piano. (Felisha Adam/CityNews)

After Gani was put into the room multiple times, Polyakova noticed a shift in her son’s personality. She says he was no longer energetic or happy.

In December she asked to see what the rooms looked like – something not shown to her at the beginning of the year. She says she was shocked at what she saw.

“I would never be able to calm down in this room,” she said. “I would, quite the opposite, try to get out of this room.”

Polyakova describes the room as storage sized, without much light.

In one of the incident reports of Gani being violent, it says he hit the educators putting him in the room, and that he was in there for 40 minutes.

“I don’t know any kid who would go freely to that room,” said his mother.

“I cannot imagine how to spend even more than five minutes and just the fact that it was happening behind my back and I couldn’t protect the boy.”

Incident report filled out by Parkdale Elementary. (Felisha Adam/CityNews)

In a statement to CityNews, the English Montreal School Board says the rooms are a “safe and comfortable area for a student… These rooms are never used as a means for punishment, but rather a calm space accessible to any student.”

In Quebec, there are no regulations on standards these rooms should meet. That’s something Gani’s parents say is needed in order for the rooms not to be used as punishment for students like their son.

“At least we need some basic some guidelines,” said Temir Zholtayev, Gani’s father. “Right now, there’s still silence, not a word about the guidelines or how to use it, because there are no guidelines.”

Polyakova believes that her son has reacted negatively due to being placed in the seclusion room, which traumatizes him and makes him fear going to school.

Gani has not been back to school since December 2022 and is now home-schooled.

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