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(Australia) Mother of "neurodiverse" (autistic) son claims school not accepting

June 1, 2023, ABC News: Concerns some schools are contravening disability legislation by not accepting neurodiverse children
Sydney mother Jana Hunt is worried she won't be able to find the right school for her four-year-old son Harrison to start at next year.
She said it had been challenging because he had been diagnosed with autism and oppositional defiant disorder, and he was also highly intelligent....

She said she was up-front about Harrison's diagnoses when she started the enrolment process with two private schools last year.

One of them didn't get back to her about the enrolment, while Ms Hunt said the other school was initially welcoming, but after a lengthy process told the family the school couldn't take Harrison.

"They said that we had to engage with an ASPECT school, which is a very high-needs school for children with disabilities," Ms Hunt said.

"And they said we need to go through the public system and get into a support class … it's a bit of a process, which we're in the middle of now.

"When I asked about enrolling him on the waitlist they said to me, 'We wouldn't want you to waste your money.'"

Ms Hunt explained that the suggested public school had limited placements for children like Harrison and the local Catholic school would accept him but couldn't offer much in the way of support.

So Ms Hunt is worried that her son, like many other neurodiverse children, is falling through the cracks of the education system, where he doesn't fit in at a special needs school, but the mainstream schools are proving hard to get into as well.

'Gatekeeping' all too common

The private school that didn't respond to Ms Hunt's attempts to enrol Harrison did respond to questions from the ABC.

It conceded there was an "administrative error" during the enrolment process last year, has since apologised to the family and says it'll now put Harrison on a waitlist to start next year.

The other private school told the ABC that it welcomed and supported neurodiverse children, but would sometimes advise that the child was better off getting "therapeutic interventions" elsewhere first, instead of "starting formal learning at the school".

Linda Graham, from the Centre for Inclusive Education at the Queensland University of Technology, said these responses from schools were all too common and it shouldn't be happening.

"It's not just the elite privates … but the public schools as well," Professor Graham said. She calls it "gatekeeping", where a school says no to enrolling a child, often for very subtle reasons, and suggests they're better placed elsewhere.

"There should be no government funding going to a school that picks and chooses in that way and says, no, we're not going to abide by national legislation," Professor Graham said…. Every child has a right to a public education

The Human Rights Commission received more than 120 complaints related to discrimination in education in the 2021-2022 financial year, and refusal to enrol students makes up a proportion of that number.

The NSW Education Department said both government and non-government schools must adhere to the discrimination legislation, although it has no power over private schools' enrolment processes.

It also said that every child had a right to be educated in their local public school….

Ms Elder agreed that by saying no to neurodiverse students, schools were contravening the discrimination and human rights legislation.

"We do believe that every child, regardless of their complexities and disabilities, should have access to their local school or school of choice, if we're talking about a private school," she said.

"There will be many types of students that will fall between the gaps and so that transformative change is needed in how we do education in this country."


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