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Shutting Them Out: One Parent's Story of Disability, Discrimination and Our Schools

By Joel Deane

JoelDeane People with disabilities – and the everyday challenges they face – have been in the spotlight over the past week, as the national Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) has dominated headlines and political coverage. For Joel Deane, the political is deeply personal: his daughter Sophie has Down Syndrome. Last week, he attended a public high school open day, looking for a high school for his daughter – and was sadly reminded that discrimination is alive and well in today’s Australia.

Social progress, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder.

For instance, we like to think that Australia is less racist than it was. Considering the heritage of terra nullius and the White Australia policy, there is some validity to that belief; after all, the Federation of Australia may have been founded on notions of egalitarianism and racism, but racism has since been superseded by multiculturalism. Still, none of that would have mattered to the four Indigenous Australians left standing by the side of the road by four taxis last week in Melbourne because of the colour of their skin.

The same applies to disabilities. We like to think that times have changed, that the institutions have been closed and people with a disabilities are no longer locked away from the world, but the truth is some are still living in institutions and hundreds of thousands are shut out of mainstream Australian life – treated as second-class citizens because they have a disability.

I don’t have a disability, my daughter Sophie does.

Sophie is 12. She was born with Down Syndrome; it hasn’t stopped her. She reads and writes, mucks around on the monkey bars, can be well behaved and badly behaved, runs like a billy goat, and is a budding photographer (her portrait of Julia Gillard was retweeted more than 400 times over the weekend).

highlight

Joel Deane’s daughter Sophie, at left, with prime minister Julia Gillard last week.

Sophie will be ready for high school in 2015 and, according to all the professional advice we’ve received, should go to a mainstream school.

With that in mind, my wife Kirsten and I went to an open night at a high school in the north-eastern suburbs of Melbourne last Tuesday night. It was not an enjoyable excursion.

This is the email I sent to the principal, whom I will call Ms M, last Wednesday.

I’ve been advised not to name-and-shame the school for legal reasons. The reason why I’m abiding with that legal advice is that the soft-shoe discrimination my family experienced at that unmentionable high school is not unique, but endemic. It could be your local high school. I refer to that unmentionable school as Discrimination High.

Ms M:

Consider this email a complaint, a wake-up call, a shot across the bows; whatever you like. My wife, Kirsten, and I have three children. Our oldest two, Noah and Sophie, will be making the transition to secondary school in 2015. Sophie has Down syndrome.

Kirsten and I have been visiting secondary schools, looking for the right fit for both Noah and Sophie. To say your school was the wrong fit would be putting it politely.

Why is Discrimination High the wrong fit for our children? Let me count the ways. The first reason it’s the wrong fit is that only three out of 1300 students have a disability – that’s less than 0.3 per cent.

I found that figure surprising given the nearest primary feeder school … has a large number of students with disabilities. ‘Why aren’t there more students with disabilities?’ I wondered. Then I mentioned to two staff members that Sophie has Down Syndrome and had my question emphatically answered.

The automatic response from both staff members (and, in case you’re wondering, this is the second reason why Discrimination High is a big nyet) was, ‘Does she have funding?’ For parents, this is usually a red flag, telling us that the school sees students with a disability not as a part of the community they serve, but a drain on resources unless there’s a bucket of money hanging around the child’s neck.

For the record, Ms M, yes, Sophie does have funding, not that it’s any of your school’s business until she enrols (don’t panic, she hasn’t and won’t).

Kirsten and I then had a more in depth conversation with a staff member we were referred to who, according to our guide, was the authority on how Discrimination High handled students with a disability. This brings me to my third reason why Discrimination High is on my when-hell-freezes-over list of schools to send my children. This staff member spoke artfully, very artfully; finding new ways to tell us why our daughter was better off elsewhere.

She opened up by saying that Discrimination High was geared towards tertiary education (apparently tertiary education is verboten to people with a disability). She then said that Discrimination High was a mainstream school – emphasising mainstream, which made me wonder whether she thought Kirsten and I had contracted a learning delay (don’t worry, Down Syndrome isn’t contagious). On a serious note, by this stage your staff member had been made aware of the fact that our daughter already attended a mainstream school. The staff member then said, ‘You might be better going to a school with more community links’ … meaning outside mainstream education, employment and life. Community links! That, Ms M, was a stroke of genius – I’ve never heard ‘community links’ used euphemistically before. I was stunned to silence. I felt as though I should make a run for the car while I could, but was persuaded by Kirsten to stay and hear your address. So I did.

You know what, Ms M, your address didn’t make me feel better.

You spoke a great deal about the new buildings that the school has; and how you had the power to expel students; and how a school over in China had heard about how great Discrimination High was and wanted to partner with you; and how the Education Department kept coming out to visit and film because your school was so ace (OK, you didn’t say ace, you said something about excellence); and you spoke about multiculturalism.

Curiously, you didn’t talk much about the teachers that make the school work. The school buildings seemed to be more important than the school culture. And, in case you were wondering, I love the new basketball stadium, too, (it reminded me of High School Musical) but, seriously, talking about the millions invested doesn’t make Discrimination High sound like a private school; it makes it sound like a cashed-up-bogan school.

By the way, I liked the bit about multiculturalism; I really did, Ms M. But it also saddened me. Let me tell you why. What saddened me (OK, annoyed, too) was that your school was failing to roll out the same welcome mat to students with a disability. That’s why Discrimination High may be multicultural, but it is not diverse because its student body does not reflect the mainstream (there’s that word again) community of which people with a disability are very much a part.

Let me tell you another thing, Ms M, Discrimination High is failing to meet if not the letter of, then the spirit of, the Disability Discrimination Act. Ever heard of that law? I suggest you Google it.

Have a nice day.

Joel Deane

Later that day I received an emailed reply from Ms M. She said she was disappointed I had ‘formed such a negative opinion of the school’ and invited me to visit Discrimination High’s website ‘for a more detailed outline of our college.’ No apology. No counter argument. No suggestion that there was anything worth talking about.

Legally, people can’t be discriminated against in Australia, but one thing I’ve learned as the parent of a child with a disability is that there’s more than one way to skin a cat.


Joel Deane is a poet, speechwriter and novelist. His debut novel is The Norseman’s Song. He has worked as chief speech-writer for Victorian Premiers John Brumby and Steve Bracks.



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75 comments so far:

This letter made me shake with anger. It's scary that there is this level of discrimination that is being so carefully groomed within the school hierarchy. I very much agree with you said in the letter Joel this school sees students with a disability not as a part of the community they serve, but as a drain. The fact is all children deserve the best opportunities in life and this is the role of a public school. It made me very bitter that public schools are deciding to exclude children on the basis of disability. While this was not outright said, the implication was clear and judging by the low enrolement of children with disabilities their technique for putting of parents is working.

Amra Pajalic
06 May at 01:10PM

It made me angry too. This isn't the only state school where this kind of thing is going on - I've heard from other parents of children with disabilities that they've been similarly dissuaded from certain schools. If a school has very few enrolments from students with a disability, it often means that the school has a bad attitude like this, or a poor track record of considering the needs of these students. Disgraceful.

Kerrie
06 May at 01:44PM

This situation is all too familiar and we have experienced it in both public and private schools. It is times like these that i actually feel sorry for other people and their narrow and uninformed way of thinking, at the end of the day it is truly their lose but it does make it a hard battle at times when advocating for your child with a disability.
Very well written well done.

S Jackson`
06 May at 02:15PM

Joel, Sophie looks such a GEM and what an interesting and impressive family Discrimination High is missing out on. Thank you for your letter.

Joy Ellis
06 May at 02:30PM

How awfully familiar are the contents of this article to any parent of a child with a disability! Lucky is the parent of a child with a disability who has not been faced with such a situation or worse! Having a child with any disability is such an eye opener. My child has ASD and the way I have been treated by school personnel around the time my child my diagnosedat 7 was so awful I do not know if I will ever recover fully.

K De Larossi
06 May at 02:33PM

Only a short step away from eugenics. :(

Sedgwick
06 May at 02:43PM

I see this so very much. I visit many schools as an external 'teacher'. I left teaching full time for many reasons, this was one of them, discrimination on many levels, all of them low. You have a beautiful family and Sophie will be at a much better school than this one. I'm both embarrassed and angry.

Nathalie Brown
06 May at 03:06PM

Such a familiar story. We had a similar experience. We did however then find a high school that was willing to take our son who has DS. They welcomed him with open arms, funding was never an issue, they did a brilliant job. This school attracted many kids with disabilites. There were about 20 at the time my son was there. Until they got a new principal, who set to make some changes. During a discussion with the school council president, who happened to also be my husband, the principal said to him "our school is attracting too many students with disabilities, this is ultimately putting too much pressure on my staff " I removed my son from school only months later.

Mum
06 May at 03:44PM

We only realised exactly how much this was a cultural thing when my daughter changed schools. After 4 years of "risks" and "funding obligations" and "department constraints", "contracts" and "processes", the principal, in the new school simply asked "ok, what do you need, and how shall we communicate if there are any issues?" What was needed was simple, and was arranged quickly, communication meant the most appropriate of phone, text, email or drop by the house (yes, the principal!) and it was a completely constructive experience. Which would have cost the department so much less, was easier on all concerned, and my daughter finally felt like the belonged. It is only as hard as you make it, and some schools make it very very hard.

Naomi
06 May at 03:51PM

Thank you for sharing your letter Joel , I too was in the same situation not 12 months ago, when choosing a school for my daughter Sheridan woh also rocks that extra chromasome, who was transitioning into secondary school . I would have liked her to attended the same private school that her brothers attended , I could see no reason why she couldnt , but like you, I encountered the not so direct discrimination that you have experienced, and was so angry and dissapointed at the reception we received, but dont fear she is now enrolled at the local public secondary school, and is welcomed with open arms, accepted along with the many other students with disabilities that attend the school, and loves going to school so much I even have a battle to keep her home when she is unwell, the students and staff love her and treat her with the respect that she deserves and she is thriving, your gut instinct will tell what is right :)

Kim
06 May at 04:26PM

Thank you Joel,for articulating so powerfully ,the plight of many parents of children with disabilities.
As a paediatrician I have formed the opinion that the leadership ,or lack of,the principal,is what determines the culture of a school.
Many times I have supported parents moving children to schools where they are appreciated.

David James
06 May at 06:48PM

Hi Joel,
I am the parent of three children with ASD. My oldest has Asperger's Syndrome and attends a mainstream Catholic highschool. My eleven year old daughter has autism and is due to commence highschool in 2015. Like you, I have been 'highschool shopping', So far I have visited five schools; only one school was able to give me a clear outline of what support my daughter would receive regardless of whether she retained funding or not. The other schools either skirted the issue or, like your experience, wanted to know whether my daughter had funding.
I have tried to keep an open mind throughout the whole experience, unfortunately, I can't say the same for the education system.
I wish you all the best.
Anna Brasier

annabrasier@bigpond.com
06 May at 06:50PM

I am not surprised. I have worked with the NSW DEC for the best part of 20 years. Schools emphasise academic excellence, test results that can be publicly bandied about to make them look great and the achievements of their best and brightest. They actively expel students to improve those test results. Schools compete against each other for the "best" students and actively seek some point of distinction: selective, creative arts, performing arts, technology... When schools say they are multicultural that is the easy part, based on the ethnic background of their students. In reality do they actively celebrate that diversity? No. And as for a school promoting itself based on its inclusive program for students with varying disabilities, well hell would freeze over before you would find such a school.

Lannie
06 May at 07:49PM

Joel, It is so important that you make public your, Kirsten's & Sophie's experiences with such an important & normal part of life - choosing a secondary school for your children. Probably better to know now than later Discrimination High's implicit views on students with a disability. Hope you find a school that gives Sophie a great experience of secondary education. She is so lucky to have you & Kirsten advocating for her in this.

Margaret
06 May at 07:59PM

Joel,

This is an all to familiar set of conversations. Not just with the schools but with the department of education itself. Sadly there is no solace in the fact you're not alone in your plight. However, it is clear that Sophie has the perfect advocates in yourself and Kristen and that your lives are enriched by having Sophie in it.

Good luck in your search for an inclusive school. I'm sure they exist somewhere.

Neil
06 May at 08:57PM

How sad this is to read. That school should really be ashamed of themselves as they are doing more damage than just the face-value thinly-veiled discrimination against individuals with disabilities.
I was lucky enough to go to a mainstream primary school which was inclusive of those with disabilities. The students who required more help had their own classroom, but all the kids went on excursions/school camps together and of course were together at lunch and recess in the playground. The culture and attitudes of the teachers instilled in us that all the students were unique and had value to offer. They didn't make a big deal out of the kids with special needs. We just included them, the way it should be. The same opportunities, rights and respect as everyone else, just a little more help to those who needed it to level the playing field.
It is a shame there are not more schools like this, and less like Discrimination High, which, however subtle, are teaching kids that people with disabilities should be shunned and excluded.

Claudia
06 May at 09:54PM

Thank you, Joel, for sharing this piece and for having the courage and determination to write that letter. I feel as though we may have visited the same school recently, given the stonewalling and buck-passing we experienced when we asked about additional learning needs and disabilities. But as you point out, this kind of discrimination is so endemic that maybe it was another nearby school... Perhaps I'd better now write the letter I considered writing following our experience there. Good luck with your search for an inclusive school for Sophie. We have found another school not far away which seems to sing a rather different tune.

Francesca
07 May at 07:25AM

Hallo from Sweden!
And thank you for joining us in our camp. We are working from the point to keep our children included, but there are voices that want¨s to go the other way. Included schools is a possibility, but for that you need politicians that are willing to fight a long with you.

Diana
07 May at 09:09AM

Thanks Joel. Your experience is totally unacceptable and I feel this school needs to be named. As a person "of colour" I am only too aware of the rampant but often lesser spoken discrimination that goes on at all levels of society in Australia. As someone who has worked with folk with disabilities i am also aware of a similar "unspoken" level of discrimination, and, of course, the bigots who actually speak it. This tax payer funded school is a disgrace. In my long life experience of issues of discrimination I have come to learn that discrimination does not exist in a single isolated sense, and that if this school discriminates on one level, it will certainly discriminate on others...fantastic! a school producing bigots for the tertiary education system and society??? I bloody well hope they pull their sock up after this and naming them would force them to change their position of discrimination, and, or, uncover support for it from their school community. Thank you for speaking up.,In such situations this must happen for the crucial debate to take place to end discrimination and bigotry. Good luck to you and your family and well done on speaking out. As one father to another, i'm proud of you.


07 May at 09:40AM

Sadly this story is identical to that of a large school - with lots of lovely new facities - in the eastern suburbs of Melbourne. I know it intimately. I had responsibility for 'students with individual needs'. i was appalled at the line run confidently by the principals to parents. i fought for three years to change the culture. in the end, i was destroyed myself. When principals don't model inclusive practice, the school will not be a friendly place for anyone outside the narrow academic band of tertiary entry 'score potential'.
My 'individual needs' team ended up helping families find more inclusive schools because their children not only were denied differentiated curriculum, but they were targeted by teachers to a point where their well being ultimately deteriorated.
When school leadership members are trained to understand their legal responsibility, they come away with the clever language they need to maintain a narrow identity. DEECD has looked the other way for years and continues to allow schools to do so.

Tom
07 May at 09:52AM

I have 3 children who need extra help at school - 2 with Autism, and 1 with Aspergers.
The 2 boys with Autism attend a special education school, and have progressed really well, with most activities geared to their specific requirments.
My daughter is now coping well with a main-stream private high school, although early on she was being bullied, and the school was very slow in providing the appropriate intervention.

When our new Disability Care system is in full swing, they should also have a componemt which includes schools & carers, or otherwise too many students who need extra help will fall through the cracks.

Jos
07 May at 09:52AM

My son doesnt have a disability, but recently we attended an inner Northern high school open day where it was made VERY Clear, that the school was only for high achievers. This infuriates me. My son will end up at a school not of our choice, not in our area and probably not what is best for him.
Thanks for raising this. Some school will be so lucky to have Sophie there.

jen
07 May at 09:55AM

Joel, I've just read your powerful letter and listened to your poignant and emotional interview with Jon Faine. Congratulations on exposing such insidious discrimination with dignity and courage. In doing so you have honoured your family and civil society more generally.

Peter Seidel
07 May at 10:06AM

Maybe things won't change until the " performance measure " of schools as reported in the press and the pressure on schools " to achieve " in Government required tests focus only on measurable academic performance. H. Barker


07 May at 10:30AM

I too have had similar experiences and I'm a teacher. My daughter has a mild to moderate intellectual disability and she has experienced both mainstream and special settings with varying success. Surprisingly to many educators in all settings she is a great reader and only 2.5 yrs below her reading age and numerate given the obstacles she has to overcome she is doing amazingly well. This is important as the prevailing view regarding academic success ie is the student educable is pretty grim and there is a paucity of research in this area those below the magical cutoff point of 70. We have transitioned to a zoned special Ed setting the positives she is establishing a strong group of friends with similar interests and abilities she feels as if she belongs. The down side is the academic program which she complains about despite my representations backed up by the same evidential tools used by the department. We are back to covering the same level of numeracy she covered in yr 3 she is now in yr 9! this is clearly a breach of her human right to learn. Overall her well being has dramatically improved I have just resolved to back her up with a rigorous home tutoring program.

As a graduate teacher I've personally found the department to be the most inward focused institution it lacks transparency and actively discriminates and bullies its teachers. This culture is reflected back onto vulnerable students and their families. I have witnessed numerous hostile conversations regarding difficult students in the staff room I sit silently hoping that my colleagues don't ask the usual question of schooling and children. Unfortunately the rhetoric of "excellence in education" doesn't match the reality.

Leeanne knight
07 May at 10:38AM

Ahh, We have sent both our children to public primary and secondary schools that have both had a number(small) of disabled kids. Many parents at private schools have told me openly that one of the reasons that private schoos are worth it is that their kids will not be held back by teachers spending time on disabled, troubled and difficult kids. Some low fee catholic schools seem to accomodate disabled, but eilitist high fee schools universaly do not. I hear some will if you are willing to pay up to doub;le the already outrageous fees. Private school parents please comment(honestly)

sip
07 May at 10:52AM

Heard you on Faine this morning. Congratulations for being so brave and taking this issue to the media. It takes so much emotional energy to do this, often energy we don't have as parents of kids with special needs. I agree with others who have commented that any school you choose will benefit greatly from having such a wonderful family part of their school community. All the very best.

Annie Angelo
07 May at 10:58AM

Joel, thank you for writing this piece, for being willing to share your appalling experience in order to shed light on the discrimination that is, as you say, endemic.

My cousin has severe autism but he went to a mainstream primary school. He's now nineteen years old, and still spends time with the children he went to primary school with. Their parents constantly tell us how enriching and invaluable an experience it was for their children to share their classroom with my cousin. They say that it has made their children so much more aware, tolerant, inclusive and compassionate than their peers.

Discrimination High has denied its students your daughter's attendance at their school, and those students will be the poorer for it.

Adriane
07 May at 11:20AM

Great letter. I wouldn't send my daughter to Discrimination High either, even though she doesn't have a disability, I think she's far better off at an unpretentious school where she gets to mix with a range of kids, and could be lucky enough to be class mates with the likes of your lovely daughter. We should all be together.

Emma
07 May at 12:03PM

Sorry Joel but I had to laugh. It is not because I agreed with the school BUT because My wife & I had similar situations when trying to get equality for our now deceased son I will call Austin. Have you been told "there are people worse off than you" or "CAPS! (the rare condition Austin Had) Never heard of it or the priceless letter we received from our state government when applying for funds to buy the motorised wheelchair which Austin needed for the most basic of needs that virtually said that even though our application was successful (which was around 6 pages long) because the budget had been fully expended we would have to wait until the next year (in 8 months time). Can you imagine your house burning & the local fire station saying that because their water allocation had been fully used they could not come out until next week? There were people on our side though, those who understood, those who saw discrimination because some people had to do a little bit more. I have made many enemies from the "fights" I had with many a teacher, bureaucrat, politician but even in hindsight we have no regrets & would do it all again if necessary. Don't you dare let yourself be bullied you're daughter needs you.

Tony
07 May at 12:26PM

Thank you Joel for raising the issue of 'veiled' discrimination.
Maybe the Wheeler Centre could consider some informative, educative seminars/presentations on the subject and you could bring Ms M and her staff along!
Good luck with your search for a good education for all your children.
My son enjoyed some years in a mainstream secondary school and it was probably the most productive and happy time in his 41 years and certainly was not the accepted practise then. Lots of discrimination to battle.

Heather
07 May at 12:56PM

Joel,
I can only theorise this being educators forgot the reason they wher involved in education. They presumed anyone looking or appearing different is an automatic threat to their organisation's " achievement". They had equated beautiful school buildings, high VCE scores & high university entry rate to " high achievement". I had heard stories of schools, both public and private, applying pressure to students and/ or their parents to change schools when the students struggle . The only reason I can think of for such pressures is to make the student leave voluntarily. Hence the VCE score is enhanced and the schools' reputations maintained. All these without breaking the law. Yes, there is more than one way to skin a cat. What they do MIGHT be legal, but definitely unethical, I congratulate you for exposing these people for what they really are. They should never bhave been in the education profession. They forgot what an educator's role is.

On the other hand, your story is also an indictment of our society on a whole. We as a society had narrowed the definitions of achievement and success and measure them in purely materialistic terms. That is why the sports teams' successes are expressed in terms of how many GOLD medals they win, hospitals achievements are expressed in terms of how many "cases" they treated( never mind the patients returned because of poor treatment in the first place ).

I watched the ABC about the Best Buddy Programme in some NSW schools on Monday. I was so moved by the way the " handicapped" students and their buddies interact and how both sides of the buddies come out better, more caring and confident. Maybe the school teachers and principle of Discrimination High should watch the program and learn how wrong they are with their distorted definition of achievement .

T Chui
07 May at 01:45PM

On a slightly different tack, but one that leads directly from Joel's wonderful article. My son - with high functioning Autism - is in Yr 9 at a government school in the eastern suburbs. It simply the most amazing school. Their Wellbeing program assists a significant number of young people access secondary education, children that have been failed often by other schools for a lot of the reasons mentioned above. The teachers are superb - because they have years of practice teaching young people of all sorts of abilities. Support is offered without even having to ask, because the Teachers KNOW their students.

You'd think they'd have a waiting list miles long, people banging on the doors to be let in. But you know what? In our educationally aspirational area, where the other government high schools have results and uniforms to match the private schools, this one off the radar. "It's trashed it's reputation", "school of last resort", etc. and you all know why. It's because it's very mixed ethnically, socially, and ABOVE ALL educationally. It is considered to be without educational status BECAUSE of the things that make it so wonderful for my son. I just can't get over how such an inclusive, innovative, caring school is scorned for doing what government education is supposed to do - educate all their students to the best of that students abilities.

So Joel, more power to your elbow. Things have to change.

Anna
07 May at 02:26PM

Great letter Joel, I always say instead of "every child has the right to an education" it should be "every child has the right to attend a school" I say this because although my son attends a mainstream school in our local town, he receives next to no teachers aid time & that time he does receive is poorly managed ie help in art?? vs help in reading etc. We therefore made the difficult decision to send him 3 days per week to a special school 65km away. This means he is collected @7.30 & returns @ 4.30pm a big day! So although he is able to attend our mainstream local primary school he is there more for socialisation than education.

nicole
07 May at 02:33PM

Thanks for speaking out about this. As a fellow father of a child with down syndrome, I would urge you to continue on in your quest to put Sophie in a 'mainstream' secondary school, it is extremely hard work for you and your family but your daughter will ultimately be a lot better off than in a specialised setting which I don't think is the right way to go. My wife and I totally believe in integration although at the time we opted for a segregated setting which we have since regretted.

Richard
07 May at 04:28PM

Joel, I have always enjoyed your writing and none more so than this piece. I wish Sophie and Noah well in their pending transition to high school.

J Moule
07 May at 04:58PM

Hey Joel,
I also heard you on Jon Faine this morning, and as a parent of a child with a genetic disability I have been battling the education system for 7 long years. We have experienced both settings and my son is back in mainstream; the best of a bad lot...

I wanted to thank you for helping me realise that I am not insane; that 'normal,' intelligent, articulate parents of children with a disability, are not emotional wrecks or self-absorbed narcissists who love to hate schools! Hearing you today, listening to your humanity as a parent dealing with rejection, humiliation, anger and frustration gave me strength to keep on with the fight.

My son's experience has been life changing for our family in so many ways. However, it has led me to a career change into teaching, in an attempt to change the culture. I, like you, believe the school culture sadly reflects the wider community culture - that people with a disability are not really considered part of 'mainstream' society. Rather, they are acknowledged as being 'special', but nobody seriously takes their inclusion into society as reality. You just need to look at the job prospects for young adults with a disability. Not many 'mainstream' organisations seriously consider taking people with a disability into their fold.
Thank you for expressing your experience so eloquently, funny and witty. We need people like you to shine the light!
Melanie

Melanie
07 May at 08:31PM

Hi Joel I heard you on 774 this morning and thank you for highlighting this (sadly) endemic problem. What a shame no aplogy was forthcoming considering how she had offended a family who would have made such a meaningful contribution to the school.
Not sure why you were recommended not to name the school...no defamation if it's the truth. I certainly would not be enrolling my children there if I found out which school it was!!

Yvette K
07 May at 08:40PM

Joel,
Have you read the book called "So many Everests" by Diana & Victoria Webster? Discrimination against people wit disability comes in all sizes and shapes.

Amy T
07 May at 08:48PM

thanks for your story. Our son with Down Syndrome starts high school next year and we have also been told (unofficially) that he is would not fit in at the local state high school that most of his peers will be going to. Reason given is that "students here are scoring so well in the Naplan tests". We have also been advised , also unofficially , that the high school that we are zoned for "does not have the resources to cater for him".....

Karen
07 May at 09:25PM

Hi Joel
Our daughter is 37 now. She has an intellectual disability and we had the same problems years ago! "She'd be better off at special school etc etc" We really thought attitudes regarding inclusive education had changed for the better over the years but apparently not. Better you don't send her to Descrimination High as they will just ensure she won't be happy there and then you will remove her and they will "live happily ever after" having successfully got rid of the problem. Attitudes start at the top and if the principal is not supportive, you are fighting a losing battle. Good luck.

Ann Houben
07 May at 09:48PM

Thanks for sharing your experience. It was wonderful to hear you on 774 as well this morning. Both of my children have disabilities - DS & Asperger's. There are so many layers to the discrimination we face and it is so important to write letters, emails, educate friends, family etc... when we have the energy and space to do so. I will be doing the high school shuffle in a couple of years and still remember our daughter being 'turned down' at one of the local 3 year old kindergartens. I hope you find a school that embraces Sophie and Noah.

Odie
07 May at 09:56PM

I know Joel well and I too was at that very same school's open day. (he might guess who I am from this post)

I too had concerns, but from a very different perspective.

My son *might* be academically advanced and would probably be prime fodder for the "progress mill" they were selling. But throughout the entire tour and during the presentation in their wonderful theatre I kept getting this odd feeling that there was something amiss. Thank you Joel for denuding the emperor.

During the tour, the guide was emphatic in telling us about the sports program and we were permitted the privilege of watching the basketballers through the glass doors of the brand-new gym (we were privileged!).

They also spent time extolling the overseas student (sorry, cash-cow) program and we also learned that an amazing 5 students of ever year group (something close to 300 at their own figures) was invited to the high-country retreat where students were sequestered for many weeks to 'discover themselves.'

And there I was thinking a mirror and a pair of tweezers was enough.

Of course, the artfully arranged tent, air mattress and climbing rope in the relevant classroom really sealed the deal for all of us.

As a likely science-nerd, my wife and I were keen to see our son's 'home' for the next few years. A part of the school that were were told was recently renovated and would offer strong education.

Bzzzzt.

The gaol-like surroundings and the hokey demonstrations that left even our 6-year-old daughter's eyes rolling suggested that the school's focus HAD to be on the softer arts.

Then we saw the arts facilities.

Remind me... what was this school's focus? Perhaps it was maths... maybe geography (the cakes were 'interesting') or any discipline that didn't require resources. Sorry, resources that didn't involve sports or leadership.

Oh, and Joel... did you notice the carefully covered wheelchair elevator that looked like it hadn't been used in years?

Joel, as you too seem to have anticipated, this was a school we were led to believe was ahead of the pack. Having attended the open day, we despair of the rest if this is evidence of 'the best.'
We may-well direct our son to this place, but only with seriously lowered expectations and even lower expectations of the competition.

Dear Discrimination High: for obvious reasons, I will not identify either myself or my son, but be aware, if we do select you (as the pick of a poor bunch) I will fight for him and his education to the best of my ability.

kaithe
08 May at 01:05AM

This letter disgusts me.

I think it is reprehensible to use your child as a political football. It is no wonder you are too gutless to use the schools name as much if what you have said is based on assumptions.

I got to the end of your letter and wondered what sort of other agenda the author must have, and then saw your job was as a speech writer for the Labor party, and it began make sense.

As the parent of a daughter with Down syndrome myselfI find your attitude embarrassing.

As an somebody who works in education I find your assumptions laughable.

1300 students and only 3 with disabiltiies? Really, kids with autism, Aspergers, dyslexia, dysgraphia, ADHD, ADD, or low IQ, or do only things like cerebral palsy or Down syndrome count as a disability. I'm not saying the school guide gave you this figure, but maybe you should question that instead of accusing school of breaking the law.

I have encountered several children who would easily qualify for funding for an integration aide, but parents had no idea about where to start the process, so asking a parent if their child was funded is a legitimate question. Would it prefer they look at your daughter determine she has Down syndrome and assume she has funding for an aide? The ramifications of assuming this are much worse than an inconvenient question.

Taking an aggressive, childish and cowardly approach such as writing an open letter using a name like "Discrimination high" isn't going to fix anything. Why not write about postive experiences, you contrast your daughters experience at primary school, with uour experience at Discrimination high, but only mention it fleetingly.

I feel sorry for children who's parents are such poor advocates for them, ultimately it often does more harm than good.

Nic Joosten
08 May at 06:29AM

Thanks Joel. Question is, how to get change? Where is the accountability and oversight in the DEECD?

Melissa
08 May at 09:35AM

Nic, your comment disgusts me.

Have you read the other comments here? Joel's experience is incredibly common - and not just by parents of kids with Down Syndrome, but parents of the other kids with disabilities you mention (autism, ADHD, etc.).

This is endemic behaviour in our schools, and it's legal only in the literal letter of the law - just like Bill Clinton *technically* did not have sex with that woman.

As an educator, you clearly have an agenda in defending the school.

The whole point of Joel's letter is to highlight a negative experience that is all too common, and that should not be allowed. It's called advocacy. It's called caring about what other parents and children might experience. And it's the opposite of childish or cowardly. It takes courage.

I feel deeply sorry for your Down Syndrome daughter in having you as a parent, and your insane, truly cowardly and childish attitudes.

All this is coming from the parent of a child with ASD who has experienced exactly this behaviour at a school on the other side of the city from Joel's. And who has met other parents of children with ASD, from all over the city, whose experiences mirror this.

A school is only as good as its principal, and the attitudes and inclusivity they foster. Some schools are wonderful, inclusive places - others, like this one, should be ashamed of themselves, and cause great damage, to individual families and the community.

Louise Clausen
08 May at 09:36AM

Joel

Brilliant and impassioned letter - on behalf of your daughter - on behalf of us all in fact. My wife and I have no children (back-story exists, of course) and within our immediate families - no nieces, nephews, cousins with any disability. But we are human beings - both of us former teachers - my wife now working in Home Care services (aged/disabled) with the capacity for empathy - guided by ideas of social inclusion across the spectrum of difference (ethnic/physical/etc). Yes, the focus on buildings or sporting prowess or university entrance statistics - all so very paltry in the grand scheme of what the formal education process is truly all about - allowing enjoyable learning and socialising - developing our compassion and empathy and awareness of the wider tapestry of human splendour. We don't need testing or examination regimes - in fact the crucial learning/training for professional/trade careers is singularly most important and valid (given technological changes) at the point of entry into such career pathways - till then broad-based literacy - of stories and literature in all its forms - basic numeracy, science - and place geography - and history (beginning with the local (and Indigenous) - to the national and onwards to the international (our national familial links stretch deeply into nearly every corner of this world) and learning other languages! Understanding of food and nutrition and why we eat what we eat for good health or other outcomes - with artistic and creative exposure too. Movement (participatory sport - non-competitive within the school setting) should round out this scenario. This is for all of us! My experience is the teaching of English (literature - we find ourselves represented in heroic struggle or aspects of our Indigenous heritage or of our non-mainstream existence), of History (Australian - Ancient, World); of TESOL (immigrants and refugees); of some languages: French, German, Japanese...finding the aspects of my students which might best switch on their interest - and never giving up on any - finding streaming or ranking of students (as opposed to mainstreaming/co-operative "mixed-ability" mixes) one of the last truly discriminatory practices - based on the shifting sands-like all-done-with-mirrors "IQ" concept. You'll understand where I am coming from. I returned just a few years ago from many years in Japan and in my town at the local club - the very competent doorman checking membership cards/signing in visitors, gathering up empty glasses - was a young Down Syndrome man. It warmed my heart. Last Sunday I saw Geraldine DOOGUE and her presentation of the Best Buddy program on "Compass"! How marvellous! How absolutely splendid and human! Emotion wells in me as I recall it yet again - those beautiful young people on both sides of the disability divide - finding friendship and self-worth in giving! The Discrimination High executive certainly need to look at that and turn the school into a beacon of something far better than mere gleaming buildings! Joel - family - you are what I believe makes this country/our world - great! Caring and passionate for justice.

Jim KABLE
08 May at 01:15PM

Louise,

It is cowardly to not name the school, if all he says is true then there is no cause for legal action.

As an educator I have no agenda defending a school that may or may not even exist. I do think it is strange that no schools have defended their position on this issue, or made statements to indicate that they are not school in question.

Do you not think that this "open" letter written by a LABOR party employee, and accompanied by a photo with LABOR PM Julia Gillard, and this incident happening the same week as Gillard is trying to win votes by being seen to care about the NDIS. Accompanied by name dropping Gonski review into a radio interview, this all seems like propoganda.

Unfortunately schools don't have unlimited resources for all students, and all schools are not equal, if a parent expected all schools to be equal why would they shop around for the best school. Asking a whether a student has funding is a legitimate question, in this case the answer is yes, and the parent got offended, what if the answer was no? The next question probably would have been "have you applied".

Schools need to ask these questions, they can't divert help that is provided for one student to another, that isn't fair on the student that is funded.

Don't feel sorry for me or "my Down syndrome daughter" (she has Down syndrome she isn't a Down syndrome, any more than your child is an Autism kid".

Being a parent of a child with a disability is one of then hardest experiences, and I wouldn't wish it on anyone, but it isn't a licence to lash out and attack, without specifying who it is you are attacking.

Nic Joosten
08 May at 02:02PM

Always a pleasure to see such extensive and thoughtful responses to a feature. A request, as ever, for respectful exchanges rather than name calling or personal attacks.

In particular, the concept of cowardice has come up and we wish to make the following clarifying point:

The decision not to name the school or principal was not Joel's. It was an editorial decision made by the Wheeler Centre. We felt that the power of the letter and the broader piece lay in the representative nature of Joel and Sophie's experience rather than the specific details. Many of the responses above bear out that decision.

The Wheeler Centre
08 May at 03:43PM

Hi Nic,

Just a few clarifying points.

First, the letter you read is the email I sent to the school in question last week. I also CC'd the department. I mentioned my experiences on social media and, because of my literary rather than political connections, was invited to submit an article for the Wheeler Centre.

Second, I didn't name the school at the request of the Wheeler Centre. I was fine with that request because I wanted to make a point about the systemic problems students with disabilities face. I also didn't think there was much to be gained from vilifying one school when so many are just as bad if not worse. You can call that cowardly if you like.

Third, the Wheeler Centre asked for the image of the PM with my daughter. The reason why they did so? To make the connection between the advances being at the policy level with the NDIS announcement and the lack of progress being made at the community level. Seemed to make sense to me.

Fourth, when I mentioned Gonski in the interview on the ABC, I was talking about Children with Disabilities Australia. The CDA (I'm not a member) have done great work in education and are pushing for Gonski to make schools more equitable to kids with disabilities. I don't see why you have a problem with that.

Fifth, I don't work for the Labor Party. I've been out of politics for four years and have not been in the paid employ of the Rudd or Gillard Governments.

Sixth, is the article above political? You bet it is, Nic.

And I make no apology for that. The political cause I'm supporting (along with a heap of Liberal, Labor and Green voters) is called the disability movement. I don't know about you, Nic, but I'm not happy about the educational, housing and employment opportunities currently available to people with a disability in Australia. If you want to accentuate the positives of the educational system, go for your life -- I'm going to keep pointing out the shortcomings as well.

Nic, you have a family and you're doing the best you can for them. We have that much in common.

As for me, I just know that if I didn't stand up for my kids I couldn't look them in the eye. So that's what I'm doing.

And, finally, I heard from the principal of the school in question today. She wants to sit down and have a chat about what happened the other night. I think I'll take her up on her offer.

All the best,

Joel

Joel Deane
08 May at 03:44PM

Just want to put in a plug for the Disability Discrimination Legal Centre. We're a free community legal service who represent families in this situation all too regularly.

Freezing students out of education is NOT LEGAL. Nor is excluding students from services because they don't "have funding" - they still have a LEGAL responsibility to make reasonable adjustments for your child so they can derive benefits from education. This is under the Victorian Equal Opportunity Act.

Give us a call and we'll see what we can do.

Chelsea Candy
08 May at 05:12PM

Hi Joel,

Firstly, thank you for your response. I wish you all the best for your meeting with the principal. I sincerely hope that you find that you have been misinformed, because at the end of the day, kids getting a fair go is what school should be about.

I understand the point you are trying to make, and hope you understand at least part of mine. When you use emotive language like "wake up call, shot across the bows" in a public letter, you are going to get emotive responses, which is certainly what you got from me, While I understand your concern and the concern of many of the comments on your article, I also work in the sector that you and so many comments here attack.

I fight hard for all types of kids to be included in the field I work in , and have shed many tears and lost many nights sleep stressing about how to ensure kids, especially those with obstacles such as disability, or difficult home situations get the most out of school. When I see so many people making negative comments, it upsets me as rarely do we hear the positive stories.

I understand that some research shows mainstream school can provide better academic success for kids with disabilities, but for this to happen, a lot of other factors have to contribute as well, and sadly it doesn't always work out.

Personally, I believe schools should be a place that enables children to form their identity and this should always be more important than academia. I think too much is made of specialist vs mainstream debate and that people should keep an open mind and consider what is best for their child and their identity.

Again I wish you and your family all the best in finding a school that fosters the best in all your children.

Nic Joosten
08 May at 08:14PM

Good on you, folks. The last four comments preceding mine pretty well sum up why this was a discussion worth having, and why this piece was worth publishing. And Nic, I'm especially impressed with your gracious response to Joel's gracious response.

Seriously, I'm getting the fucking warm and fuzzies here. I'd better go for a walk outside!

Harold
08 May at 09:48PM

Wow.

I was going to preface my comment with a 'brilliant email Joel', but after taking Harold's (comment above me) advice and reading a lot of the chain, my head is swimming a bit.

I'm sans children and can only empathise with your experience Joel. I am grateful you shared it and I knew when I read the byline in the body of the newsletter, this would be a moving story. I did not know it would create such impassioned responses.

I truly believe education should be freely available for all and it really saddens me to hear this occurred. Kudos for not letting it stay as just that experience. The more we can be privy to these conversations the better equipped we can be to make improvements. For all.

My positive thoughts for Sophie to have the education that is rightly hers and many commendations on your tenacity as parents. I really admire that.

Leona
09 May at 12:46AM

Thanks again for your feedback, Nic. I'll keep what you said in mind when I have that sit down meeting with the principal.

'kaithe', thanks for noticing some things I missed during the open night at the school. And, yes, I think I know who you are.

And everyone else, thank you so much for your input; I've learned a great deal from you all. It also helps to know Sophie is not alone.

You know, social progress is a lot like house work -- it's never finished. There's always more work to be done.

Joel Deane
09 May at 12:18PM

Joel,

Welcome to the world of Advocacy. Well done... Go to

http://theballaratindependent.com.au/news/author/robyn-perham

Robyn Perham
10 May at 04:33PM

To the person who writes the newsletter for the Wheeler Centre -

I take exception to this line:

Today, he writes for us about his experience with looking for a high school for his Down Syndrome daughter Sophie – and the coded discrimination he faced.

It should read - Today, he writes for us about his experience with finding a suitable high school for his daughter Sophie, who has downs syndrome etc.

Please go to http://www.lsi.ku.edu/~lsi/aboutus/guidelines.shtml
to learn how to write without discrimination about people with disabilities.

Thanks for the link, Robyn – we’ve acknowledged this in our email to you earlier today, too.

  • Moderator

Robyn Perham
10 May at 05:32PM

Thanks Joel for sharing your experience. We are still quite a few years away from the search for a Secondary School, which is just as well as I will need to find the strength to go through that process again. I am dreading it.
Your experience was not unlike our own in the search for a Primary school for our son Jeremy. Jeremy like Sophie was born with Down syndrome.
Our first visit was to our local primary school for an evening tour. We were being shown around the school, and the teacher was highlighting the schools credentials. When we stated that our son had Down syndrome, well… you would have through I had said that he was an alien from Jupiter. Our tour guide went quiet and finally commented that ‘perhaps you should talk with the Assistant Principal, as I do not know much about ‘that’’(she is a teacher she should know about teaching kids). She quickly scurried off, ten minutes later and no Assistant Principal, we decided not to waste any more time and left.
The second school we had a great tour, I was getting quite optimistic that we found ‘the place’. Yet the parting comment from the principal was ‘we would love to have Jeremy, but you know…..we have lots of special needs kids here’. As if there is some kind of quota system and once you hit a certain number of ‘special needs’ kids, that it; the kitchen‘s closed. I do not understand why this discrimination against kids with disability seems to be somehow acceptable; you would not hear a school say ‘we already have 3 kids from China so we can not take on anymore’.
I wished I had taken the schools to task (like you did in your email), but I didn’t. I made the run to the car and then had a cry when all alone. I cried not because my child has a disability, but because the school system sees him as a burden. I cried because they can not see what I (and many other) see; that he has something to teach them.
P.S we did find a welcoming school.

michelle
10 May at 10:47PM

My boy has down sydnome and I had similar experience. When I just talked to the school enrollment staff arranging a time to visit the secondary school (a Catholic School). They already made their effort to explain that their school was not a good option. They did not even ask about my boy's ability nor behaviour. I was so disappointed on their bad attitude. I had another similar experience when my boy tried to enrol in a childcare. When I visited their 3 years old group, the staff mentioned Tues and Thurs are available. However, when I talk to the manager and mentioned my son's disability, she immediately said there was no vacancy. However, my boy studied in a mainstream Catholic primary school and he was welcome by the students and the teachers. His secondary teacher found him so advanced in his literacy and numeracy gain from his primary education. My boy now studies in a special school which we are very happy. They have very good teachers and very good programs.

C Lai
11 May at 10:18AM

Hi
Im a parent with a special needs child..I live in the north of Melb..This school totally sounds like the school my child is at..The school told me that they were not willing to have my child full time and told me he should stay in a special school or i should try another school..This school is a new school and i new they could not refuse kids...The main reason I wanted my child to goto this school was because my other child were there..So I contacted the department and then they had to accept him...I think this was the biggest mistake Ive ever made, pushing my child into a school that really didn't want to take...Now every week I'm fighting for his right to get a good education..Its been so hard..By the way my child also has the highest level funding in which a special needs child can get..The school still refuse to give him the right resources my child needs. My child also is not getting any speech, OT, or physio..My child is in a wheelchair and non able to speech ( use AAC )..Even though a child is getting top funding at a the school still has the final say in how they spend the money..My child is not getting a real education , he is being baby sat by staff..Well Joel the above school that you were talking about totally sounds like my child school..After hearing my story I guess your happy you didn't send your child to this school..

From Lynette


11 May at 07:15PM

when did we give schools the right to dictate what opportunities our children get to experience in life,


11 May at 07:49PM

Ah perhaps students with disabilities would reduce the school test score average - and then the school, sorry, college would not be quite so ace anymore. Sadly blatant and subtle deniable discrimination is so pervasive across society. Time to yell and shout.

Bandicoot
12 May at 05:01PM

That is disgusting, especially the fact that the principal didn't even apologise for the mistreatment of your daughter!


13 May at 11:02AM

Hi all, I am also a parent of a child with special needs.
There are awesome teachers in every school but if the principal of that school does not want your child, look for another school.
My child started in main stream, was having a fabulous experiance, then in comes the new principal and the whole situation changed. My child is now in a specialist setting and very happy and I don't dread the phone ringing anymore or pick up time when I would be filled in on all the "terrible" things my child had done. It was mentioned to me by someone who had helped out in the room that other children did things just as bad but no one was watching them as they didn't have a disability.
Don't rule out specialist schools, they can be awesome.
I would like to mention that when our child sees kids from the ex mainstream school they are both excited to see each other and I think it has been an invaluable experience for the mainstream kids to have had our child in their class.
I think this decision was the most stressful thing we have had to deal with in relation to our child so far.
Thanks for bringing this out Joel and all the best for your school hunting.


13 May at 12:20PM

HI Joel,
I felt for your terrible experience. I too am a parent of a child with special needs, but his issues do not qualify for funding. I believe that this is certainly not be the first or the last time that you have or will have to go in to bat for your child. I guess as parents we all do it to a certain degree. I know how it hurts like a knife in the heart when your child is discriminated against.
I too am looking for a high school for my child. And the differences in public high schools are surprisingly palpable (thank goodness). hopefully my son will get in to the school we would like him to go to as we are not keen on the alternative.
My husband is a teacher in a high school and I just wanted you to understand one thing. Though I don't deny that the way you were treated and spoken to was constructed in such a way as to discourage you from sending your daughter to that particular school, I know that their first question to you regarding her funding is absolutely going to be the first question ANY school would ask you. They are not supposed to ask you this because they are secretly plotting to discourage you, but simply because whether she is funded or not makes an ENORMOUS difference to how the school can cater for your child's well being. Remember, many disabled children are extremely vulnerable to bullying and even sexual assaults in high school! Please don't hold it against them that they asked you about funding. They understand that too many horrible things can happen to these kids if they don't have enough supports in place. Many people in the community don't understand the school's duty of care to its students and that in order to provide adequate support to those students, the school needs that extra funding.

I am very glad that you have brought this issue into the light, and hopefully the Department will deal with it appropriately. Life is already difficult enough without having to constantly come up against brick walls for your child's education. Your daughter absolutely deserves every bit of the education that every other child does. And every other child should have the opportunity to have her in their school community.

Serena
14 May at 01:08PM

http://www.theage.com.au/opinion/political-news/sophies-candid-camera-and-pluck-moves-gillard-to-tears-20130515-2jmv1.html

"She is the girl that brought the Prime Minister to tears."

The Age has a thing on Sophie Deane and the NDIS today.


16 May at 12:40AM

Hi Joel,
Thankyou for flying the flag so well. My son 's preparation for mainstream high school this year was 2 years in the planning, He has cerebral palsy and uses a wheelchair. My philosophy is 'Keep the Vision" for Sophie, -we made a video showing how our son has been mainstreamed since pre school, is part of this community and he will continue his schooling with his peers.
So far , yr 7 has been a positive experience, but you can't ever rest, support the school with inclusive ideas, and continue to 'work with the staff . For us finding 'creative ideas ' to include our son in eg sport has been embraced by his peers and staff have shown their own skills in this subsequently.
Good luck , and why don't we parents share these experiences , more often instead of having to invent the wheel each time!
Thankyou joel and Sophie!

Penny Graham
17 May at 12:44PM

Have to say we had concerns for our second daughter With ASD transitioning to elite academic catholic girls high school where her elder sister was. After a very lack lustre performance thru the years from the local parish primary school, we pulled out all stops for the transition process to be a positive and fully informing opportunity for our daughter, the new school and for us. She is in year 9 now and this large school has not missed a beat. The anxiety we feared has not eventuated and her low learning junctures have been met with enthusiasm for her work ethic and Achievements within her seamlessly delivered alternative and in some cases modified curriculum . It has been 18 months to celebrate her growth in confidence, willingness to engage in extra curricular activities, making new friends with lovely girls and enjoying her teenage years. I work as a special ed teacher in the state system in primary schools and altho for our children, being a catholic family, the state system was an unlikely option, we were very worried how the transition would go. The school made many assurances and as I have already stated, every teacher has responded in a sensitive informed and professional way to our daughter. We have not needed to follow up on poor communication or tears about someone not understanding her- as this has just not happened....so a great transition CAN happen and I am sure that there will be the right school for your daughter and I am sorry that you had this experience as it is a very anxious time for pants trying to make a good choice for their child. Good luck for the future.


17 May at 08:11PM

I have found it difficult to find the right school for my daughter, who has DS. Not being accepted at her local parish school, I opted for a special ed unit within a mainstream school. However her anxiety and inability to settle led to unmanageable behaviour. she is now in a special school, and less anxious. Although I always hoped she would be able to attend an inclusive mainstream school, this has not happened. I am now trying to apply for vacation care within a mainstream setting, and this is proving just as difficult at some of the schools where I have made enquiries.

Cathy
06 June at 11:44PM

Hi Joel,

Thank-you for sharing your own experiences so passionately! It's been a while since the last comment and I would like to know how progress is going with finding a high school for Sophie. I am basing a school Social Justice assignment on your story to raise the awareness of disability discrimination.

Your reply will be much appreciated.

Best of luck for the future!

Violet
26 August at 08:37AM

My beautiful daughter with autism has been assessed (1 hour of questioning) as having a low iq & granted an aid in the classroom. Our local primary school have accepted her for prep, but have done everything possible to put us off. They have told me her safety will be at risk. They have said that they don't feel it will work, because the classroom is very structured & she just won't fit in. I believe she has the capacity to achieve. The transition could have been so much more positive with strategies put in place and I am very sad over their attitude. Discrimination is such a terrible thing.

paula rees
06 November at 11:21PM

As a parent of a beautiful little girl that was also born with Down Syndrome, this story is way to familiar & heart breaking...probably because our wounds are so raw. Last year we begun the enrollment process with our local public school, the feeder school for the Pre-school our daughter attended at the time & they also asked about the funding available to them if they were to accept Sara's application, the Pre-school in which had no idea & openly expressed that they were unsure if they were going to be able to "adequately educate" our 4yr old & our only conclusion was that DS children MUST PLAY differently to other young children ??? I am yet to see this. To give the pre-school a life line/ security blanket my husband & I at our own expense equipt the Pre-school with anything that Sara may need that would be considered "different" ie -weighted lap mat, air cushion to sit on if needed, fidgets, chewys, an iPad with Proloquo2go if needed as Sara does have mild anxiety (although never used) A4, pocket size visuals on a lanyard as well as toileting, arrival, departure, hand washing process visuals as well as countless others, I attended everyday to help out for 2hrs in the afternoon helping with afternoon tea & cleaning up afterwards & cleaning of equipment etc as my daughter didn't receive enough funding in Pre-school for them to justify keeping Sara there for the afternoon session, therefore I offered free labour in exchange for Sara's attendance...I might add at this point NO visuals supplied were used at all, anywhere in the centre. From there we moved on to Kindergarten & after some mild resistance we had decided to enquire at the local Christian School where my eldest daughter attended from yr 7-10, they also asked about funding ONLY not Sara just funding & informed me that the local public school receive 3times the funding they do...I'm still waiting on a call from them to go for an interveiw, glad I'm not holding my breathe, to then really insist on the local public school to enrol her from there we have had a few ups & downs & I still attend school each afternoon for 1.5-2hrs in exchange for my daughters education as the funding isn't enough to cover the day ??? & there are a couple of students in the same class with varied special needs...to yesterday being invited to a support team meeting for my husband & I to be advised that Sara should be sent to a more suitable setting as she gets tired of an afternoon & does lay down for a rest (their suggestion) as they are not going to be able to sustain this next year In yr 1 a more formal setting, the funding just isn't enough also to have an aide for the full day as Sara only qualifies for funding for 5 of the 6 hrs per day...feeling alittle upset especially when last week we attended the Pre-school for a couple of hrs as our youngest daughter is enrolled next yr & they had ALL of our visuals displayed & gave everyone the spool on how well they work etc, a year to late for Sara but good to see "I GUESS" Confused & slightly upset NB

nik & mick
14 November at 12:50AM

So sad just let the children learn I have a son in a Secondary College
he lost his father earlier in the year to cancer, and is struggling with his anger and frustration, his education is also taking a plunge, but all the school can do is to lay down the rules, exclude him from class, and the internet so he cannot choose, subjects for next year, because we have not paid the $200 for an on-loan computer, I agree these schools compete for funds, it is a very very well maintained and wealthy school, give the kids a basic education,
they need to feel wanted, loved and that they make a difference,
I hope all you wonderful parents that are taking a stand for your
children with or without a disability succeed and we have beautiful
adults in our society.
If we never give a damn,and stay silent, we are the ones who have failed our kids.


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