- Tracey Hayes has photos of her twin boys strapped to chairs at Monash Special Developmental School in Melbourne
- Other parents of autistic children have also made complaints about how their children have been treated in Victorian schools
- Rebecca Cobb claims she was forced to pull her autistic son Tristan out of Marnebek school, in Cranbourne, because he was repeatedly locked in a small dark room
- Mychelle Bourke says her son Mitchell was strapped to a chair and locked up at Golden Square Primary, in Bendigo
- Sharlene Gray claims her son Jason was locked up at Western Autistic School, in Laverton, and left 'screaming for help' at the age of nine
- The Victorian Department of Education and Early Childhood Development denies the allegations
- Disability campaigner Julie Phillips has started a petition demanding Victoria's Premier Napthine stops the use of 'restraint' against children with disabilities
By SARAH DEAN, 8 September 2014
A mother has revealed shocking photographs of her autistic twin boys being strapped in and restrained at a specialist school run by a principal with links to notorious Melbourne cult 'The Family'.
The pictures were taken when her 11-year-old boys were in their primary years and Tracey Hayes is now calling for an education inquiry into the school.
The disturbing images are the first photographic evidence of the restraint and seclusion used against autistic children in schools across Australia, which dozens of parents have spoken out about in recent years.
'We don’t need violence, strapping them in or shut downs. My boys are the most beautiful little boys. I don’t restrain them at home; all I have is a car seat. I hold their hand and walk with them and tell them what’s going on. I’m proud of my boys,’ Ms Hayes told Daily Mail Australia.
Strapped in: Tracey Hayes was given this photo of one of her twin boys restrained at Monash Special Developmental School in Melbourne while he was in his primary years
She explained that her twins have little choice but to stay at the school until they are 18-years-old because the other state schools in Victoria that accept children with autism are also restraining and locking up children.
One of her twins, whom she wishes to remain nameless, was strapped in a stroller for physical education lessons so he couldn't move - just watching while his classmates ran around having fun.
'The school have taken the photos in the past as they think it is their right to take the pictures, they have bound the books and sent them to me,' Ms Hayes said.
Demanding change: Disability campaigner Julie Phillips has started a petition to stop the use of 'restraint' against children with disabilities
Controlled: One of the restraint chairs used on autistic children at Monash Special Developmental School
Ms Hayes is now allegedly banned from entering the grounds of Monash Special Developmental School in Melbourne where her sons attend after classes begin at 9am every day.
Since the ‘lockdown’ of the school things have been far less open she claimed.
The school is run by principal Helen McCoy, a close friend and executor of the will of cult leader Anne Hamilton-Byrne. In July, Ms McCoy said she had never been a member of The Family but told the Sunday Herald Sun that she had power of attorney for the 84-year-old who is suffering from dementia.
Daily Mail Australia has contacted Monash Special Developmental School and Ms McCoy but was told they would be giving 'no comment'.
'I can’t tell you anything that’s happening because I’ve got a behaviour protocol of what I am or aren’t allowed to do now,' Ms Hayes said.
Restrained: The young boy was strapped to a wooden chair as he ate his lunch at school
'They’ve still got the chairs with straps in the classrooms but we are in lockdown. I can walk in with the children before 9am but any time after that time - when classes have started - I have to go to the front office and I’m not allowed to take my sons into class.’
Ms Hayes' sons have severe autism and experience extreme levels of anxiety that have led to them absconding from the classroom. The straps were used by teachers to tie them down so they couldn’t escape.
'I’m really proud of my children but I’m ashamed Australia claims it gives first class education. Where does that come from? Look where we are with disabled children, it’s just atrocious.’
The mother of four explained that using restraints is legally allowed in schools as a last resort but ‘we didn’t even get to a first resort’.
‘The staff lock the doors to keep children in when class has started as they don’t have enough staff and don’t want you to see what is going on,’ she said.
Isolated: Ms Hayes son was allegedly restrained in a stroller while his classmates ran around in physical education
'I don't restrain them at home': The pictures were given to Ms Hayes by the school and show one of her sons strapped around his waist as he participates in class
She has written over 100 pages of examples of her concerns over the past several years, compiled with the help of other concerned parents.
‘My gut feeling this is just not right, I thought all schools were meant to be transparent,’ she said.
Ms Hayes reportedly lodged a complaint with the Human Rights Commission but the Department of Education 'pulled out of the process'.
The children who attend Monash have the most ‘severe and profound disabilities’ and most have an IQ below 70.
She explained after making numerous complaints, asking for meetings with the head teacher and talking to the Department of Education, that she and other parents are ‘pursuing other ways to get our voices out and heard’.
‘We need an inquiry to happen for our children to actually be educated,’ she said.
First resort? Ms Hayes explained that using restraints is legally allowed in schools as a last resort but 'we didn't even get to a first resort'
Stuck: Ms Hayes said she is often asked why she doesn't send her children to another school. Her answer is 'there is the same culture in all the special development schools'
One of her twins is not able to speak and Ms Hayes believes an individualised AAC, a plan that helps children and teachers communicate without verbal speech, for him would help him to learn. She is fighting the school to get one.
‘This is really important. A lot of people have a problem being able to speak. What happens is they show extreme behaviour because they can’t connect and talk,’ she explained.
She doesn’t believe that the current one teacher and one teaching assistant for 10 children - some with physical disabilities - is enough for one-on-one care.
‘My boys abscond so it’s very dangerous if schools can’t make them safe. They said I’d get all the therapy and resources but what therapy? They said they can’t afford to do it but my boys’ funding brings in a lot of money.’
She claimed the school doesn’t even have a library or readers just a ‘makeshift library in the staffroom’.
Angry: Tracey Hayes is upset about the way her autistic sons have been treated
Controversy: Monash Special Developmental School is a Department of Education and Early Childhood Development school in Victoria, located in the Melbourne suburb of Wheelers Hill
Ms Hayes is determined that her boys, who will need care for the rest of their lives, learn to read and write before they leave school.
‘If they leave school and can’t read or write and aren’t toilet trained I am going to be using millions of dollars of tax payers’ money.
‘I don’t want them to be a burden on society; I want them to participate in society. I want them to be educated. It’s their right.’
Ms Hayes said she is often asked why she doesn’t send her children to another school.
Her answer is ‘there is nowhere else to send them’. ‘There is the same culture in all the special development schools,’ she said.
Unfair: Ms Hayes supplied Daily Mail Australia with these photos because she wants change inside schools
Daily Mail Australia has spoken to other parents with autistic children in Victoria and they have also listed horrific incidents involving restraint, seclusion and ‘lockups’.
Rebecca Cobb, from Cranbourne, was forced to pull her son Tristan out of school because he was repeatedly locked in a small dark room when teachers couldn’t cope with his behaviour.
The mother is taking action through the Australian Human Rights Commission against Marnebek School in Cranbourne, which caters for children with intellectual and developmental disabilities, on the basis that her son was discriminated against because of his disabilities, after finding him locked in a darkened room for misbehaving.
Rebecca Cobb (centre), holding her daughter Shelby, has complained to the Australian Human Rights Commission about the treatment of her son Tristan (in green), whom she claims was locked 'terrified' in a dark room as a punishment in Marnebek School, in Cranbourne, Victoria
Ms Cobb claimed she saw a teacher wrap up a distressed child in a blanket 'like a sausage roll' and drag him along the corridor
On March 6, 2012, Ms Cobb was asked to come to the school to pick up her son Tristan, now 12, who had apparently been acting up in class.
According to the teacher's notes, he had refused to do the work set for him, but was not acting in a violent or threatening manner.
When Ms Cobb went to collect him, she found him locked in the 'time-out room', a dark empty room 'about the size of a disabled toilet.'
Tristan was lying on the floor of the small room, which had a boarded up window and the lights switched off. She said that at the time it happened, he was 'terrified' of the dark, so she couldn't imagine that he had turned off the lights himself.
'I saw him lying on the floor, crying his eyes out, he had a (self-inflicted) bloody nose… when I opened the door he jumped up and he was like: "Mum, take me home”.'
Ms Cobb found Tristan locked in the room on two other occasions. The second time, which occurred on March 10, 2012, a small chair had been left in the room, which Ms Cobb said could have been a safety risk.
Mychelle Bourke (left) has told how her son Mitchell (right) was allegedly strapped to a chair, locked in small, dark rooms and repeatedly tied up to 'manage' his behaviour at school at Golden Square Primary in Bendigo, Victoria
'If he is in a fit of rage, all he has to do is trip over, impale himself [on the chair] and no one would know,' she said.
She said the Department of Education claim that the room doesn’t exist but ‘eight parents have seen that room, we can’t all be wrong. We have a map of room that says TO - the time out room.’
‘If I did that to my child at home and the school found out all my kids would be gone. I don’t see what the difference is between a teacher doing that or me doing that just because they have a qualification,’ she reasoned.
Ms Cobb said her first indication that anything was wrong at the school came in 2009, just one year after her son began attending Marnebek, when she saw a teacher wrap up a distressed child in a blanket 'like a sausage roll' and drag him along the corridor.
WHAT THE WOMAN WHO IS LEADING THE CAMPAIGN FOR CHANGE, JULIE PHILLIPS SAYS
The boy, aged 10 or 11, had become upset when he dropped a stress ball he had been carrying while walking back to class, said Ms Cobb.
When he tried to go back so he could pick up his toy, three teachers threw a blanket on the ground, tackled him, wrapped him up in the blanket and dragged him down the corridor, she claimed.
'I was just shocked. I don't know this child, so I didn't know what his issues are. But he wasn't doing anything, he just wanted his ball,' said Ms Cobb.
A spokesperson for the Department of Education and Early Childhood Learning told Daily Mail Australia in May that they were satisfied by 'current practices' at Marnebek School and stated: 'The Department denies the allegations and will vigorously defend the matter at VCAT.’
The principal of Marnebek School, Karen Dauncey denied that the school ever punishes children by isolating them or leaving them outside without teacher supervision, adding: 'Our school is a very caring school where the students are at the centre of everything we do.'
Meanwhile, parent Mychelle Bourke has told how her son Mitchell was also allegedly strapped to a chair, locked in small, dark rooms and repeatedly tied up to ‘manage’ his behaviour at school at Golden Square Primary in Bendigo, Victoria.
He started at the school in prep and became the first child to be suspended in prep. He wasn’t allowed to attend at a regular basis and he wasn’t allowed to go to school excursions.
Mitchell was diagnosed with autism in 2009 but the school reportedly ‘wouldn’t believe it’.
‘They said it was a behaviour problem and a parenting problem even though we had a letter from the GP. He was locked into rooms to keep him there until I got there or excluded from everything.
‘He was isolated; he was left in a principal’s office. He ran away and was found on railways lines. He was pulled by the back of the neck by a teacher and another stood on him to restrain him,’ Ms Bourke said as she listed alleged incidents over the years.
Ms Bourke was forced to do a parenting course and Mitchell was suicidal by the age of nine.
‘I was being called at 10 am to come and get him. He was supposedly sat on a chair so he couldn’t move. But he told me he had been tapped. There were marks on his arms and ankles.
‘It made him depressed and not willing to go to school and very violent,’ Ms Bourke said.
Ms Bourke put in a Freedom of Information request around her son’s treatment and received a reply in March 'where all the incidents had been removed'.
‘It just says there were a couple of meetings with parents, that he repeated grade prep and there a couple of reports from speech reports and psychologists. I’m going to fight it.’
Ms Bourke is taking her son’s case to the Human Rights Commission but she doesn’t know if they can do anything because it’s so old.
‘I’m not looking at money value, when he left Golden Square he couldn’t read or write,’ she said.
Mitchell is 13 now and starts high school next year.
He is just learning to write and recently raised over $26,000 for an autism charity after launching a charity walk.
‘This kids a fighter and he is just amazing. He’s an amazing little boy and what he’s been through he blows me away.’
The Department of Education and Early Childhood Development for comment said all claims of abuse have been 'fully investigated'
Daily Mail Australia contacted Golden Square Primary about the alleged incidents. Assistant Principal Robyn Skvarc said: ‘We can’t comment on this’.
Sharlene Gray and her son Jason have also suffered a horrific battle for a happy education.
Jason was allegedly locked up at Western Autistic School and left ‘screaming for help’ at the age of nine.
On one occasion he was reportedly locked in a small room for hours while his class went on an excursion.
‘He was banging on the door. Another class let him out and he was a bit shocked that his class weren’t there anymore,’ she explained.
She described the room as like a store room but ‘take away the shelving and put carpet on the walls’.
‘The only window there was the door window but most of the time they covered that up with a piece of paper so they couldn’t see out. There was no door handle.’
Sharlene Gray and her son Jason (pictured) have also suffered a horrific battle for a happy education. Jason was allegedly locked up at Western Autistic School and left 'screaming for help' at the age of nine
‘They are autism specialists, they are supposed know what to do. It shouldn’t get to the point of locking a child up, you can usually tell when a child has a break down, you work with that.
‘They should have calmed them down instead of throwing them in there.’
Jason, now 15, had nightmares and Ms Gray was forced to take him out of school.
‘Western Autistic School says they have no paperwork that states Jason was locked up.'
Like many other parents of disabled children in Victoria, Ms Gray turned to the help of campaigner Julie Phillips to get action.
This week she found out the case is going to be heard in the Federal Court.
‘No child should be discriminated against and locked up / restrained EVER!!!!!!,’ she wrote as she posted the news in a Facebook group run by Julie called Stop Abuse in Australian Schools.
The principal of Western Autistic School, Mary Thomson, has not responded to Daily Mail Australia's requests for comment.
Over 11,000 people have now signed Julie’s petition demanding Premier Napthine step in and ensure schools in Victoria end the damaging use of 'restraint' against children with disabilities.
‘Treating children with disabilities like this is wrong. The government promised two years ago to make sure incidents like this stopped, but it didn't. The Human Rights Commission have even said it 'breaches' child rights to use 'restraint' against kids at school like this.
‘But the practice still continues, at our public schools, and dozens of other parents are beginning to come forward with similar experiences,’ the petition reads.
Ms Phillips doesn’t just want the Victorian government to stop the practise, she wants it looked into by the UN and barred in all schools in Australia.
‘I’ve got no doubt that this is happening in all states. It’s a Victorian petition but we all want to make it national,’ she explained.
She is taking inspiration from the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in the UK.
In August an unprecedented inquiry into Britain’s treatment of the disabled was launched to probe whether the country has committed ‘grave or systemic violations’ of the rights of disabled people.
However, she can’t make a complaint to the UN unless every avenue of complaint in Australia has been exhausted.
‘We are talking about getting an inquiry into this issue because in Victoria and centrally there is a history of letters going to ministers but they continue to say “we are not investigating”.
‘We think we can get sufficient evidence to get an inquiry in Australia.’
The disability advocate became involved in this battle four years ago but the fight to stop disabled children being restrained and locked up in schools continues.
’It seems to be an area that no politician wants to get involved in… if it was sexual abuse you wouldn't get this response.
‘We think there is simply not an interest in kids with disabilities,’ she said.
The Daily Mail Australia put all of the allegations to the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development for comment.
They did not clarify whether strapping in children or locking them up in dark rooms was legal in Victoria.
A spokesman said: 'The law recognises that when a student is posing a physical threat to someone else or to themselves, a teacher can physically intervene if necessary.
'When there is such a danger to someone’s safety in a school – for instance, if a student is about to harm another student or a staff member by throwing a chair – the teacher can step in to prevent the student from causing injury.
'Teachers take their duty of care to prevent children in their care from harm very seriously.'
They said it was 'inappropriate' to comment on the cases of alleged mistreatment Daily Mail Australia put forward to them.
'The Department never tolerates mistreatment of any child anywhere in any school, and any concerns about this should be raised immediately with the school or the Department.
'In the last five years, in every student disability discrimination case involving the Department of Education that has been decided by a court, the courts have wholly dismissed the applicants' claims,' they said.
They claimed that where concerns have been raised with the Department they have been fully investigated.
'The Department denies the allegations and is vigorously defending these matters at the relevant courts and tribunals,' they added.