A Midhurst mother says she is shocked after learning school staff routinely carry large, red blocker pads to subdue her autistic son and other children with developmental disabilities.

Anita Walsh learned of the technique after someone anonymously emailed her a picture of school staff from Barrie North Collegiate escorting students, each one carrying one of the large red pads in their hands.

Her 16-year-old son, Mathew, attends North Collegiate.

"To me, they look like they're marching down the street, or the sidewalk, ready for battle," Walsh said. "My mouth just dropped to the floor. I couldn't believe what I was seeing."

The images Walsh saw in the picture were confirmed by CTV Barrie, which filmed the staff members with blocker pads in hand, escorting special-needs students.

The practice of using the foam blockers has been in place since 2010, said Simcoe County District School Board officials.

The board also said that there have been complaints from other parents.

They maintain that the blockers are only used as a last resort and are necessary because of health and safety concerns for staff, students and the public.

Peter Gumbrell, principal of special education at the Simcoe County District School Board, said staff can face threats from children with developmental disabilities and the pads can be used to de-escalate a situation when things get tense.

"The blocking pads would be used when we have a student who is highly escalated and may be demonstrating some aggressive behaviour," Gumbrell said. "We can, in a fairly unobtrusive way, use some of those foam pads, to block some of those attempts to injure others."

Angie Bridekirk, chair of the Simcoe County District School Board special education advisory committee, disagreed, saying that it's wrong to automatically treat all special-needs kids as a safety risk.

"If we create these barriers, with red blocker shields, we have lost our advocacy, our hope and belief that we're going to create an inclusive community," said Bridekirk.

When it comes to her son, Walsh said the blockers create a physical barrier that will further prevent other students from interacting with Mathew.

"It would say that ‘these students are violent, stay clear,'" Walsh said. "I think it promotes fear and it would also promote exclusion and being left alone. Who is going to approach these kids? What other student is going to come up to my son and say ‘hey, how's it going, give me a high-five, bud?' Nobody."

The special education advisory committee has already passed a motion calling on the board to stop using the blockers. The motion will be presented to the school board at a meeting Wednesday.

With files from Roger Klein, CTV Barrie