Ivanhoe Girls' Grammar has reached a confidential settlement with a 10-year-old autistic girl after allegedly refusing to enrol her because she didn't "suit" the school.
The girl's mother took legal action in the Federal Court, accusing the independent school of discriminating against her daughter because of her disability.
Ivanhoe Girls' Grammar reaches settlement with autistic girl over discrimination claims. Photo: Mario Borg
A spokeswoman for Ivanhoe Girls Grammar denied the claim and said the school was "committed to providing an inclusive and supportive educational environment".
She said the matter was resolved on a confidential basis to the satisfaction of all parties.
The matter didn't go trial – which meant that the school never filed a defence responding to the claims. It was settled at mediation in August.
Federal Court judge Debra Mortimer was not asked to determine whether the allegations were true, but approved the settlement, saying it was in the child's best interests.
Justice Mortimer said the undisclosed sum of money would be kept in a trust and go towards the child's ongoing needs.
Court documents reveal that in 2007 or 2008 the girl's parents paid an enrolment fee in the hope it would secure them a place at the sought-after school when their daughter started Year 5 in 2019.
Last year, they decided that they wanted their daughter to start earlier.
They claim that the Melbourne school twice told them that there was a vacancy for their child in term three of grade 2.
They also alleged that at an interview last June, principal Dr Heather Schnagl claimed that the school would not "suit" the girl and she would not "fit in".
It was allegedly suggested that the Andale School in Kew, which caters for children with language and learning disorders, would be more appropriate for the student.
The parents said they were prepared to pay extra for a full-time aide for their daughter, who has a number of disabilities including autism.
After the meeting Dr Schnagl wrote to the parents and said the school was unable to meet the child's "learning needs" and would be unlikely to do so until she "benefits significantly" from a proposed intensive intervention strategy.
She strongly encouraged the mother to consider enrolling her daughter at the Andale school and told them "there were no vacancies in Year 3 in 2017".
The parents complained to the Australian Human Rights Commission before filing proceedings in the Federal Court.
The Age has chosen not to name the girl because her parents fear it would harm her chances of being accepted into another school.
They originally wanted an order so that their daughter could attend the school, but have since lost faith in the school and no longer want her to study there.
The girl's father said that the system was "fundamentally broken".
"The kids who suffer the most in this country are children with a disability," he said.
"It does not need to be this way."
It comes as new research shows that almost one in three students with a disability have been refused enrolment or discouraged from enrolling at a mainstream school.
The paper, by University of Melbourne, Macquarie University and Curtin University academics, revealed that 70 per cent of Australian students with a disability have experienced gatekeeping or restrictive practices at schools including being refused enrolment, excluded from activities and only being enrolled part-time.
There was no significant difference between state, independent and Catholic sectors, according to the survey of 745 families, students and advocates.
Co-author Robert Jackson, an adjunct associate professor at Curtin University, said schools needed a major shake-up.
"It needs to change from a situation where teachers think 'how is this child going to fit in my classroom?' to 'how do I organise my environment so all children belong and are challenged by the curriculum?' "