Concerns raised after girl with autism placed in cardboard 'box' enclosure in classroom

Ellen Coulter

A mother in northern Tasmania has raised concerns about the standard of training for teachers working with children who have disabilities, saying her daughter, who has autism, was traumatised and teased after being placed in an open box in her classroom.

Box in Launceston classroom

Photo Jayarna was distressed about being placed in open box and was difficult to calm down, her mother said.

Supplied: Melinda Walkden

Melinda Walkden said her daughter Jayarna used a sensory tent at her Launceston school for when she needed space but it was replaced with an open cardboard box next to a rubbish bin.

She said eight-year-old Jayarna was distressed about the situation and was hard to calm down when she came home.

"She was teased about going into the box. She was told to get back in the dog box by other children," Ms Walkden said.

"To go back to bedwetting and things — it's obviously traumatised her."

Ms Walkden said her daughter had been suspended from school and removed from class several times since the box was put in the classroom.

She said she was concerned about the training given to teachers.

"They're given these strategies and programs that will work with these children and then they take their own ideas into mind," she said.

"If she's four or five days out of class, she's not coping."

Buck stops with Rockliff: disability education advocate

Tasmanian Disability Education Reform Lobby spokeswoman Kristen Desmond said the box was not appropriate.

"That space is not calming, it's still in the classroom and it's in full view of everybody, so I'm not sure how the school came to the conclusion that that was an appropriate place," Ms Desmond said.

She said Jayarna's behaviour had obviously been affected by the situation, and had been suspended from school because of inappropriate adjustments being made in the classroom.

"In the end, the reason why she's being suspended is because of her complex behaviour, but that complex behaviour can be managed and she can sit in a classroom and learn if the right adjustments are being made, and they're simply not," Ms Desmond said.

Ms Desmond said the school needed to be held to account for inappropriate decisions, but the buck stopped with Education Minister Jeremy Rockliff.

"Parents are fighting day after day, year after year, to get appropriate adjustments," she said.

"It's about time that schools that aren't providing appropriate adjustments are held to account. and it's about time the Department was held to account to ensure experiences like this don't happen."

Jayarna, daughter of Melinda Walkden.

Photo An additional teacher's aide has been assigned to Jayarna's school.

AVC News: Declan Gooch

Extra assistance made available at school

Opposition education spokeswoman Michelle O'Byrne said it was unacceptable that the Minister had not resolved the issue earlier.

She said the key issue was clearly the resourcing of disability services within the Education Department.

"If we can't get this girl through Year Two, then what hope do we have for giving her the type of life that she needs?" Ms O'Byrne asked.

In Parliament, Mr Rockliff said if the situation was as described, it was clearly not acceptable.

Later, he said he had been updated on the child's situation.

"I've been advised that the particular school … has facilitated professional support staff to conduct a functional behavioural assessment, which has recently been completed to inform the behaviour management plan for this particular student," Mr Rockliff said.

"I've also been advised that the student does have a current co-constructed learning plan which includes behavioural support information."

In a statement, a spokesperson for the Department of Education said the incident had been investigated and extra assistance, including an additional teacher's aide, had been made available at Jayarna's school.

"Disciplinary sanctions such as suspensions are used only as a last resort, or to ensure the safety of all students and staff at the school from behaviour that results in physical harm to staff, damage to property, and a negative impact on other students," the statement read.

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