By bobb | Tue, 21/12/2010 - 00:00

Lee-Maree Gallo
December 21, 2010

One of Perth's most prestigious private girls' school has admitted discriminating against an autistic girl after an emotional two-year legal battle.

Methodist Ladies College was forced to admit it failed to provide appropriate educational assistance to the girl after a settlement reached in the Federal Magistrate's Court.

Mandy and Andrew Masons' six-year-old daughter was diagnosed with severe autism at the age of two.

After the young girl received extensive one-on-one therapy for her disability they decided to enrol their daughter into kindergarten at Methodist Ladies College.

The exclusive all-girls school in Claremont decided to take on their daughter and provided a qualified educational assistant paid for by the state.

According to Mr and Mrs Mason the young girl, then aged four, began to show progress and was enjoying being at school.

After two terms the college withdrew the appointed educational assistant who was assisting their daughter without any explanation, Mr Mason said.

"The first two terms were fantastic and why that changed we've never been given an explanation," Mrs Mason said.

"Why would you take something away from a child that was doing so well? ... It's up to MLC they've never given us an answer."

Mr and Mrs Mason were then forced to remove their daughter from Methodist Ladies College as she was no longer receiving the appropriate assistance she required in order to continue learning at the school.

They said although kindergarten was not compulsory it was a crucial time in their daughter's development.

Mrs Mason said it was a heartbreaking time for the family.

"I cried every day as I went to drop my other daughter off at MLC. I had another daughter who was only four years of age with limited language saying, 'I want school'," Mrs Mason said.

"For weeks and weeks we had tantrums and meltdowns because she was unable to go to her classroom."

The Masons then decided to take the matter to the Federal Court in the belief the school's conduct to their daughter had breached disability discrimination acts.

As part of the agreed settlement Methodist Ladies College was forced to make a public apology.

"The Council of Methodist Ladies College offers sincere apologies to Mr and Mrs Mason and their daughter for events which occurred in 2008 and 2009 which had the effect that their daughter was unable to attend kindergarten and pre-primary classes at MLC," the apology read.

"The council believes that these actions constituted a breach of the Disability Discrimination Act (1992) and the Disability Standards Education (2005) and expresses its sincere regret for failing to ensure that their daughter was not discriminated against.

"The Council accepts that their daughter should have been permitted to attend kindergarten and pre-primary classes without interruption accompanied at all times by an Educational Assistant."

The school also offered the Masons' daughter a place in an educational program at the college, which they have turned down.

Mrs Mason said it was a very emotional time, but the apology was something the family was pleased to receive.

"It's a huge victory in my view for parents and for children with disabilities to reconsider what adjustments they're entitled to in a school environment," she said.

"It shows the disability act works and protects the most vulnerable in our society."

Their daughter has since been attending another private school along with her older sister, who the Masons' pulled out of the college after the tensions developed with the school.

"She is doing fantastically," Mrs Mason said.

"She is reading and writing and participating and I think it's fair to say she's the most popular girl in the classroom."

The Masons' said their daughter was very excited about starting Year 1 in the New Year.

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Lloyd Jones
December 21, 2010


A Perth couple say a private school's admission it discriminated against their autistic daughter is a lesson to other parents of disabled children to demand their legal rights.

Andrew and Mandy Mason's daughter stopped attending the Methodist Ladies' College (MLC) in 2008 after the school did not renew the contract of a state-funded behavioural therapist employed to help her in class.

After a two-year battle involving a case in the Federal Court, a settlement was recently finalised and the school has issued a public apology to the Mason family.
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In the apology, the school admits it breached WA's Disability Discrimination Act and the Disability Standards of Education Act by failing to provide a trained educational assistant.

The Masons' daughter, whose name has been suppressed by the court, is now aged six and enrolled at another school.

Outside the Federal Court in Perth on Tuesday, her mother said severely disabled children needed a trained person to help them adjust to the classroom and do what the other children could do.

"They took that away from her which meant that she was unable to attend school."

Ms Mason said the school's apology showed the disability laws worked and that even children with severe disabilities were entitled to participate in mainstream classrooms.

"I see this as a massive victory and, hopefully, it will inspire other parents to look further into what their children are entitled to at school."

Ms Mason said she cried every day she dropped off her other daughter at MLC while her autistic daughter, then aged four, was having "tantrums and meltdowns" because she could not attend the school kindergarten.

"The first two terms were fantastic. Now, why that changed we were never given an explanation.

"Why would you take something away from a child when it was doing so well?"

Mr Mason said negotiations with MLC about providing a trained aid proved fruitless, with the school at first agreeing to employ another therapist trained by the Masons then declining to do so in early 2009.

A complaint to the Human Rights and Equal Opportunities Commission also failed to provide an outcome.

After their daughter missed three terms at MLC, the Masons enrolled her in another school and took the case to court.

"My daughter was denied access to school for nine months when the legislation covering this area is very, very strong. It does give parents significant rights," Mr Mason said.

"We think that most parents of children with disabilities have very little idea of just what their rights are and just how much they can actually ask of a school."

Mr Mason said he was happy MLC had since moved on under a new principal and was working well with other autistic students.

MLC principal Rebecca Cody said it was inappropriate to publicly comment on an individual student but she was confident "our staff live the value of celebrating diversity" and encompassed all students' needs.


AN exclusive Perth girls school has been forced to admit it discriminated against an autistic student who was denied a trained aide.

The lack of the aide meant the child missed nine months of schooling.

In a case believed to be the first of its kind in Australia, Methodist Ladies College in Perth's wealthy western suburbs has had to apologise to parents Andrew and Mandy Mason after they took the school to the Federal Court and secured a settlement in their favour.

"This is a great victory to show that the discrimination act works and it protects the most vulnerable in our society, young children who don't have a voice themselves," Mrs Mason said.

"Hopefully it will inspire other parents to look further into what they're entitled to at school."

Their daughter, who was four at the time but whose identity cannot be revealed due to an order by the court, has severe autism and was unable to attend kindergarten and pre-primary classes for nine months. Eventually the Masons enrolled their daughter at another private school.

The case has dragged on for 2 1/2 years after the Masons initially went to the Human Rights and Equal Opportunities Commission, where they could not reach a satisfactory settlement. It was not until last week that the case was settled in the Federal Court.

With the exception of the school's apology, terms of the settlement remain confidential and it is not known whether the Masons were awarded costs or compensation.

In the letter of apology, MLC principal Rebecca Cody said actions by the school constituted a breach of the Disability Discrimination Act 1992 and the Disability Standards for Education 2005.

Ms Cody said the school accepted that the Masons' daughter "should have been permitted to attend kindergarten and pre-primary classes without interruption accompanied at all times by an educational assistant".

"The council of MLC offers a sincere apology to Mr and Mrs Mason," the letter says.

Yesterday Mr Mason said the school never told them why a trained aide could not be employed but it was not a funding issue because the cost was met by the state government. Kindergarten fees are about $9500 a year, according to MLC's website.

He said MLC initially provided a trained assistant but failed to replace her when her contract was terminated.

Mrs Mason said social interaction was essential for her daughter's therapy and that was taken away by the school for nine months. She said her daughter was thriving at her new school, which had "bent over backwards" to accommodate her special needs. "She's reading and writing and participating. I think it's fair to say she's probably the most popular child in the classroom."