Justine Ferrari, Education writer | August 26, 2009
Article from: The Australian
SCHOOLS are turning children with disabilities into part-time students by restricting their attendance hours in breach of anti-discrimination laws.
Some school principals are limiting the time disabled students are in class to match the hours a teacher's aide or other assistance is available, Macquarie and Sydney university researchers have found.
The study, based on surveys with principals in mainstream schools in city and rural areas of NSW, identified several practices that breach education and anti-discrimination laws.
The breaches included negotiating with parents to limit a child's attendance, sending children directly to doctors to obtain a diagnosis without parental approval and pressuring parents to enrol their children in other schools or support classes.
The study also highlights the subjective nature of labelling children with behavioural problems -- responsible for a rise in the number of students with disabilities. One principal was quoted as saying: "Well, a behaviour problem at (this school) would be a child who just doesn't do what he's told."
Disability Discrimination Commissioner Graham Innes said the practice -- which advocacy workers confirmed occurred routinely in schools -- was in breach of the act.
The study, presented earlier this year by Macquarie University academic Linda Graham at a conference of the American Educational Research Association, highlighted the case of a six-year-old boy whose days at school were reduced after the principal entered into a private negotiation with his parents.
"We had a little boy in Year 1 who absolutely refused to do what he was told," the principal is quoted as saying. "We came to an agreement that every Tuesday and Thursday, (the boy) stayed at home ... and he only came (to school) Monday, Wednesday and Friday.
"We could only get funding for a maximum three days, no matter how bad he was, so that left us in limbo for two days."
Mr Innes said he had received similar complaints and the Disability Discrimination Act required schools to make reasonable adjustments to accommodate students with disabilities, ranging from technology or ramps to teachers aides and sign language interpreters.
"The availability of time of a teacher's aide shouldn't determine whether or not a kid is at school," he said. "A child should be at school and receiving an education unless there's a valid educational reason not to be there, such as going to another facility or school. On the face of it, it's a breach of the law."
Julie Phillips from Melbourne's Disability Discrimination Legal Service said the practice was routine in Victoria and she was aware of similar problems in Queensland and NSW.
The Victorian Education Department is fighting a Federal Court action brought by a 13-year-old boy -- who suffers autism, dyslexia and attention deficit disorder -- over its failure to provide him with a full-time education.
Family Advocacy, a NSW disability advocacy organisation, said the practice had been widespread in NSW but the state education department had clamped down in recent years.
However, a spokeswoman, Belinda Epstein-Frisch, said schools still commonly persuaded parents to take their children elsewhere.
"There are many messages that can be given to a parent to say the school feels they don't have the knowledge, skills or resources to include a child," she said.