Disability advocates are concerned by the Victorian government’s plan to allow students with disability to return to school, with fears this will put vulnerable children in greater danger of contracting COVID-19. The Victorian government has announced that students from Prep to Year 10 at government schools in metropolitan Melbourne and the Mitchell Shire will learn from home from 20 July until at least 19 August.
Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews has announced changes to the previous ‘remote and distance learning’ directive implemented in Term 2 so that students with disability will be better supported during Term 3 and the current restrictions.
Three special schools in Melbourne will be investigated over a series of allegations of “violence, abuse and serious neglect” of students with disabilities over the past 10 years. Victoria’s Department of Education and Training has launched an investigation into multiple claims of mistreatment of vulnerable children at Marnebek School in Cranbourne East, Jackson School in St Albans and Southern Autistic School in Bentleigh East.
Mary Sayers, CYDA’s chief executive, said that ‘‘all responses to a crisis such as COVID-19 must be designed to avoid creating further educational and social disconnection and inequality’’.
Many children have been learning at home during the pandemic. But for parents with children living with a disability the transition has been tough. Some families say they’re exhausting their NDIS funding to pay for support workers, to try to make sure their children don’t fall behind.
Homeschooling is difficult enough for most families, but parents of students with disabilities say they urgently need more support to help educate their kids. Fiona Sharkie, CEO of Victorian peak body for autism Amaze, said students with disabilities and their families had been forced to scramble for their own solutions to homeschooling. “The silence is really deafening from the [Education] Department,” she said.
Times are hard right now. For everyone. And if you’re a parent of a child with a disability, being off school isn’t as ‘cute’ and ‘pretty’ as it may seem across social media. I’m not saying every minute of every day is hard, but it’s not all fun crafts and cookie baking either.
Nine-year-old Quaden Bayles gained global fame in a viral video after he was bullied at school for his dwarfism. Disability advocate Stephanie Gotlib writes it is the attitudes and actions of our community that perpetuate this discrimination, abuse and low expectations experienced by children with disability.
Endeavour Foundation CEO Andrew Donne said it was shocking that so many people were uncomfortable having their children share a class with a student with an intellectual disability.
As clients receive their approved plans through the NDIS, the DET has been withdrawing service provider funding, with all DET ECIS funding to service providers to cease on 31 March 2020, with funding for children commencing school in 2020 concluding on 29 February 2020.
Part of this spend must go towards improving school facilities, especially for students with a disability. In 2017, around 18.8% of school students in Australia were provided with adjustments at school – to participate on the same basis as other students – because of disability. The majority of these attend mainstream public schools.
When Gibb was ready to start school, his mum, Caitlin, took him on a school tour. She had picked this school because of its “small village feel”, thinking they would embrace her son, who has Down syndrome, and provide him with the right support to thrive.
“When you say you’re going to have a royal commission that’s going to have disabled people at the heart of it and then you don’t have a single disabled person whose giving evidence, that’s incredibly problematic,” advocate Samantha Connor said.
Some students with disability have been denied bathroom breaks and forced to sit in their own urine, while others have been forcefully dragged by their teachers, the disability royal commission has heard.
The case, which could have implications for thousands of families who believe their child has been excluded from learning due to a disability, is listed for a three-week hearing in the Federal Court next year.