Another series of stories has surfaced about the ill-treatment of students with disability in schools.

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The ABC’s 7.30 Report ran a story last month on yet another child with disability being mistreated at school.

The student was caged. Another student was bullied so badly at school he became suicidal.

In the first case, Emily Dive has lodged a complaint against the Victorian Education Department with the Australian Human Rights Commission on behalf of her eight-year-old son, Lachlan Murrell, who is autistic and has Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).

Ms Dive, a working carer, claims that Lachlan was held for hours on end in a two-metre square plywood cell with a peephole in the door and no windows. He had been shunted from school to school and a year ago, was expelled for allegedly assaulting a teacher. Lachlan hasn’t set foot in a classroom since.

“He has no self-esteem,” Ms Dive told the 7.30 Report. “He has no self-worth. He has no identity as a student. Socially, he’s missed out on a lot of opportunities and obviously academically as well.”

Complaints taken to Human Right Commission

The Victorian Education Minister, James Merlino, has ordered an independent investigation into the claims.

According to the 7.30 Report, the case is one of six disability discrimination complaints currently before the Human Rights Commission involving allegations of physical restraint, seclusion and exclusion from schools. There are another five cases before the Federal Court. Some involve working carers.

One of the HRC cases involves a young boy with autism who was subjected to bullying so severe he became suicidal. The boy’s parents are claiming that the school did not take adequate measures to ensure that the bullying stopped.

As is so often the case, when the child with disability rebels against their circumstance, it’s them who carry all the blame and shame. The boy in this case was suspended from the school several times and, finally, expelled because of ‘behaviours which were symptoms and manifestations of his disabilities’.

It is never admitted that ‘behaviours’ might be symptoms and manifestations of a failing system.

According to Julie Phillips of Disability Discrimination Legal Service Inc in Melbourne, state governments across Australia are doing nothing to rectify situations like the ones in the above two examples.

“I would hope that the conversations we’re having now strike a chord with departments of education because they tend to ignore all the evidence that the system is broken … Instead of thinking about ‘what shall we do with these kids, where shall we put them? [they should] concentrate more on resourcing the schools.”

Children with disability paying for inadequate system

As it is, it’s children with disability, their families – many of whom are working carers – who are paying the price for inadequacies in the education system.

A starting point for an effort to fix the ‘broken’ system would be recognition of the fact that a student who is ‘different’ may very well need someone to mediate between him/her and the system, to intercept and divert behaviours which are ‘symptoms and manifestations of his disabilities’.

The system needs to employ and train specialist educators and teacher-aides to guide children coming from segregated environments on their entry into the strange, and very often unwelcoming, new world of mainstream education.

Attitudes need to be corrected. Aides and teachers too need to understand that the presence of a student who is different can benefit the whole class, particularly in the matter of tolerance and charity. And that surely must be a plus in a world where there is so much hostility to ‘otherness’.

The authorities commanding the system need to realise that positive outcomes are possible. Certainly, they cannot be achieved by putting kids in cages or cells.

Australian Human Rights Commission:

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Level 3, 175 Pitt Street, SYDNEY NSW 2000

GPO Box 5218, SYDNEY NSW 2001

Telephone: (02) 9284 9600
National Information Service: 1300 656 419
General enquiries and publications: 1300 369 711
TTY: 1800 620 241

The NSW Disability Discrimination Legal Centre provides free information, advice and representation in relation to disability discrimination law for people with a disability, their associates, disability organisations and community legal centres. The centre employs a full-time solicitor assisted by volunteer law students.

Phone: (02) 9310 7722

1800 800 708

Text Telephone Number: (02) 9313 4320

Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Website: http://www.ddlcnsw.org.au

Postal Address: PO Box 989, STRAWBERRY HILLS, 2012