The first day of the inaugural hearings of the Royal Commission on Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of Persons with Disabilities began with a gruesome opening statement from Counsel Assisting on physical and verbal abuse directed against students with disabilities.
Commissioner Ronald Sackville AO QC said at the start of the day that “we chose education as the first topic of a hearing because of its obvious importance to the life experiences of children and adults with disabilities. ”
Counsel Assisting, Dr Kerri Mellifont QC, said this series of hearings “would highlight the very real and pervasive issues that students with disabilities and their parents and guardians may face in the education system.”
The current submissions “paint the very real and startling picture that in many places people with disabilities are not receiving equity in their education.”
Counsel Assist provided submissions to the Commission, including a story from a submission from Children and Young People with Disability Australia (CYDA) regarding a ten-year-old with Asperger’s syndrome who was taken out of a school deprived by her parents due to the severity of the harassment.
This bullying escalated to the point that the girl hid in a trash can from her bullies, suffered from anxiety from vicious rumors, black eyes and other physical injuries, and was even pushed off a jetty. .
Counsel Assisting described education as a “key catalyst for other rights,” such as work, politics, housing and access to justice.
“All children have the right to an education. This is a critical right. We as a company
have a relatively small window of opportunity to get it right, ”says Counsel Assisting Mellifont.
Counsel Assisting Mellifont also described how students with disabilities often experience abuse and neglect, which often occurs in an educational setting.
Nearly half of children with disabilities are denied the opportunity to participate in field trips and school activities and evidence has shown that abuse is more likely to occur in separate settings, says Counsel Assisting Mellifont.
Schools with the same funding and the same program, totally different environments
The first witness to provide evidence to the Commission, Witness AAA, explained the school path that their 13-year-old daughter has taken.
Witness AAA’s daughter has, among other things, Down syndrome and visual impairment, and has moved to school several times to find appropriate education in a safe environment.
In one elementary school, AAA described a time when their daughter was left out of the mainstream curriculum and was given only coloring books to occupy her and was not considered a “genuine learner.”
The school kept AAA out of school activities, like swim carnivals, and AAA should do everything possible to get permission forms and bring their daughter to school activities.
AAA was only informed by other parents who let them know what was going on at school.
Over time it became very exhausting for AAA to keep pace, saying it had to “pick my battles”.
In Grade 2 of elementary school, the AAA girl was yelled at, yelled at and kicked out of activities by her Grade 2 teacher.
The behavior of the AAA girl was completely different at home, it took her 12 months to recover from the trauma of this class. AAA says their daughter was petrified by her teacher.
Soon after AAA withdrew their daughter from school and placed her in a new school, the family saw a dramatic difference.
“It was a totally different experience. School leaders were supported, they were experienced, they were welcoming. One of the teachers told me at the start of her enrollment that “we want your experience, like that of your family, in this school to be the same as everyone’s,” says AAA.
“They don’t see the child as a problem. They are looking at how they can adjust or change what is necessary for that child to engage in education.
AAA just wants their daughter to be able to reach her full potential while in school and after she leaves school.
“I want the only limits in his life to be the same as everyone else’s. If we don’t include children in the education system, how can we include them in the community, in the workplace? Says AAA.
“Children need to be with their peers who will then be their work mates or their academic colleagues or TAFE colleagues or learning colleagues. It is really important that my daughter is known in her community and that she is alongside her peers in her community.
“Students with disabilities have the right to an education in their community, not elsewhere but where they live. Just like their peers with access to the curriculum and appropriate adjustments. They should be seen as genuine learners.
“They probably don’t know”
A small group of advocacy and inclusive education organizations testified to the Commission about what they see happening in Queensland schools, including segregation and abuse by teachers and other students.
Dr Lisa Bridle, Senior Consultant at Community Resource Unit Ltd, and Deborah Wilson, Managing Director of Independent Advocacy North Queensland, discussed barriers in schools and inhumanely treated children. Dr Bridle says that when children are physically assaulted by a teacher or similar person, the Community Resource Unit often receives an excuse from the principal or senior management that the child “probably doesn’t know” that he has been hit.
She says this perpetuates a myth that children with disabilities are unaware of what is going on around them.
When parents come to the police for physical violence, the police often cannot investigate further because “students with disabilities, especially intellectual disabilities, are in the same situation as in many areas of our legal system where they are not. not considered reliable witnesses, the presumption is with adults.
Often, students with disabilities are excluded from school lists
Dr Bridle refers to the AAA’s evidence, saying that experiences of segregation in schools are a very common occurrence, especially when they are excluded from school rosters or not included in school activities or field trips.
“Small slights that end up being deeply demeaning,” says Dr Bridle.
Access control is another way for schools to prevent a disabled child from entering a school, which Dr Bridle describes as restricting a child’s access to education or making excuses to explain why they cannot accept a disabled child as a student, including funding or expenses. .
Although a new inclusive education policy is in place in Queensland, Dr Bridle says many schools are still not complying with the new policy.
“I don’t think all managers necessarily comply with this… There has been a change, but sometimes that then translates into other practices that are far from being fully inclusive, like suggesting on-time schedules. partial, ”says Dr. Bridle.
“When people are able to cross the barrier, they can have a very positive experience, but my concern would be that not all families can stand up for themselves and that most people, in my experience, feel deeply reluctant to send their child in a place where they do not feel their child will be welcome.
Restraint practices are used at school
Classroom treatment was also a big topic, with Dr Bridle describing multiple instances where a disabled child was given a dog mat to sit on in the classroom in case the child got wet.
She says that when a parent who went through this raised concerns about their child’s treatment, the teacher made the parent feel like she was neurotic.
She also pointed out that a common problem in elderly care, the use of restrictive practices is also becoming an issue in schools, with many teachers using physical restrictions for children with disabilities.
Dr Bridle described makeshift sensory rooms, which she described as cupboards and “an enclosure in which you kept an animal”. Other cases involved children left alone on a tennis court or court, or a child restrained by being stuck in a seat unable to move.
Dr Bridle added that some principals have told parents their child cannot go to school unless they are chemically restrained for behavior.
Parents send their children to “special schools” as a last resort
Many families end up turning to “special schools” because of their treatment in the public or private school system. However, according to Dr Bridle, as long as “special schools” exist, there will always be a threat of exclusion.
“Inclusion is not easy, so things are going to get tough. I think this reinforces a myth that special places are the right places for people with disabilities, and it’s a theft of resources that are best placed in the mainstream school system, ”says Dr Bridle.
“I would like to see a transfer of funds from the special education system to the mainstream school, so that no child in a mainstream school is told that they cannot go to camp there. [is] not the funding of the triangular pencils, or all the other things that parents are told.
The next hearing of the Royal Commission on Persons with Disabilities will continue on November 5 and continue until November 7.