A disabled young boy was "punched" in the throat by a Jiu Jitsu trainer and repeatedly restrained at a specialist school in Victoria, court documents show.
The mother of the boy, who The Age has chosen not to name, is suing the Victorian Education Department for discrimination in the Federal Court. She claims her son, who has Autism Spectrum Disorder, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder and other learning impairments, was illegally subjected to violent and restrictive practices at Manor Lakes College in Wyndham Vale and Western Autistic School in Laverton, court document show. The claims documented by the court, and relating to the period between 2008-13, include:
- October 24, 2012 at Manor Lakes College: A teacher physically restrains a child on the floor, injuring the child's arm. This is in response to the child's challenging behaviour.
- May 17, 2013 at Manor Lakes College: A Jiu Jitsu trainer and staff member at the school "punched" the child in the throat to break up an altercation with another student. The child, who required medical assistance after the incident, was left bruised and had trouble breathing.
- May 25, 2012 at Manor Lakes College: A teacher restrained the child by forcing one of his arms behind his back and pushing him to the floor. This was in response to the child waving a plastic pocket at the teacher.
- 2008-December, 2010 at Western Autistic School: The child was repeatedly restrained and forcibly locked in a "time-out room" for at least half an hour in response to challenging behaviour. One of the time-out rooms was a small store room. The rooms, which did not have door handles inside, were locked from the outside.
- The child was not told how long he would be left in the time-out room, and on one occasion was left in a room for a "number of hours" as the teacher took students on an excursion.
The mother claimed the practices caused her son to have nightmares, and he has developed a fear of small spaces and of school. Repeated seclusion disrupted the boy's learning, and exacerbated his problematic behaviours, she claimed.
The practices the boy was "subjected to constitute cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment", she claimed. Children without the boy's disabilities "who demonstrate challenging behaviours are not subjected to the seclusion, and/or to repeated instances of seclusion", she claimed.
The school was required to provide evidence-based interventions that were monitored regularly, she claimed. However, restraint was not evidence-based, nor was the practice monitored, she said.
'Reasonable' response, says the department
The department, in its statement of defence, said a staff member at Manor Lakes College "pushed Jason away with the palm of his hand and made contact with Jason's neck", but this was after the boy was violent towards another student and a teacher, rendering the response a reasonable action.
Behaviour strategies at the schools were based on the individual circumstances and needs of the child, in addition to behaviour management strategies, which at Western Autistic School included time out, the Department stated.
Time out was used as a "proactive strategy to support self-monitoring of behaviour, self-reflection and self-calming," the department claimed.
A trial date has not yet been set.