December 21, 2010
One of Perth's most prestigious private girls' school has admitted discriminating against an autistic girl after an emotional two-year legal battle.
Methodist Ladies College was forced to admit it failed to provide appropriate educational assistance to the girl after a settlement reached in the Federal Magistrate's Court.
Mandy and Andrew Masons' six-year-old daughter was diagnosed with severe autism at the age of two.
After the young girl received extensive one-on-one therapy for her disability they decided to enrol their daughter into kindergarten at Methodist Ladies College.
The exclusive all-girls school in Claremont decided to take on their daughter and provided a qualified educational assistant paid for by the state.
According to Mr and Mrs Mason the young girl, then aged four, began to show progress and was enjoying being at school.
After two terms the college withdrew the appointed educational assistant who was assisting their daughter without any explanation, Mr Mason said.
"The first two terms were fantastic and why that changed we've never been given an explanation," Mrs Mason said.
"Why would you take something away from a child that was doing so well? ... It's up to MLC they've never given us an answer."
Mr and Mrs Mason were then forced to remove their daughter from Methodist Ladies College as she was no longer receiving the appropriate assistance she required in order to continue learning at the school.
They said although kindergarten was not compulsory it was a crucial time in their daughter's development.
Mrs Mason said it was a heartbreaking time for the family.
"I cried every day as I went to drop my other daughter off at MLC. I had another daughter who was only four years of age with limited language saying, 'I want school'," Mrs Mason said.
"For weeks and weeks we had tantrums and meltdowns because she was unable to go to her classroom."
The Masons then decided to take the matter to the Federal Court in the belief the school's conduct to their daughter had breached disability discrimination acts.
As part of the agreed settlement Methodist Ladies College was forced to make a public apology.
"The Council of Methodist Ladies College offers sincere apologies to Mr and Mrs Mason and their daughter for events which occurred in 2008 and 2009 which had the effect that their daughter was unable to attend kindergarten and pre-primary classes at MLC," the apology read.
"The council believes that these actions constituted a breach of the Disability Discrimination Act (1992) and the Disability Standards Education (2005) and expresses its sincere regret for failing to ensure that their daughter was not discriminated against.
"The Council accepts that their daughter should have been permitted to attend kindergarten and pre-primary classes without interruption accompanied at all times by an Educational Assistant."
The school also offered the Masons' daughter a place in an educational program at the college, which they have turned down.
Mrs Mason said it was a very emotional time, but the apology was something the family was pleased to receive.
"It's a huge victory in my view for parents and for children with disabilities to reconsider what adjustments they're entitled to in a school environment," she said.
"It shows the disability act works and protects the most vulnerable in our society."
Their daughter has since been attending another private school along with her older sister, who the Masons' pulled out of the college after the tensions developed with the school.
"She is doing fantastically," Mrs Mason said.
"She is reading and writing and participating and I think it's fair to say she's the most popular girl in the classroom."
The Masons' said their daughter was very excited about starting Year 1 in the New Year.