Dec 19, 2023, 9Now: Disability community speaks out after experts suggest special school shut down https://amp.nine.com.au/article/b33ba520-33e0-4a99-8177-981e9374bf5b
The conversation surrounding where children with special needs should attend school has long been shrouded by divisive opinions.
It even split the Disability Royal Commission earlier this year, with three commissioners arguing special schools should be phased out by 2051, claiming segregated education contributed to devaluing people living with disabilities.
For families at specialist school Giant Steps in Sydney's inner-west, providing them with specialised care makes all the difference to their wellbeing.
Like all of the 100 students at Giant Steps, Esra Hughes' seven-year-old Teddy lives with autism.
Esra believes educational integration would "only traumatise them rather than giving them any kind of opportunity".
"The children that are here, they have extremely high needs and for the commission to say that the world is not segregated and therefore we should not segregate these children, I need the world to be segregated for my son for his safety, for his mental health and his physical well being," Esra said.
Fellow student Hardy started at a mainstream school, where teachers said they could provide a specialist teacher to support him.
But it soon became clear the school was not compatible with the boy's needs.
"Hardy has quite intense sensory needs with the bell, so when the bell rang he would have an extensive meltdown and put his hands over his ears and say make it stop," mum Sonja Rosendorff said.
"He was absconding, he was absconding up to 10 times a day from the school, from the classroom and this was on a very busy school road."
Sonja said special schools offered children and their families far more than an education.
"You need more of these types of schools, there are so many kids that need additional support and care and actually really feel a sense of community here, and you're not judged and your child is just accepted," she said.
"I think integration is great, but as a society, we're not even integrated until we're there as a society, maybe in the future.
"But there is so much care and support that you actually need to consider to move a specialist school into a mainstream."
Throughout Australia, 380,000 school students are living with a disability.
About 12 per cent attend one of 520 special schools across the country, encouraged by many experts including former principal Dr Timothy Hawke.
He said mainstream schools were not equipped to adequately provide for students with special needs.
"Ninety-two per cent of teachers, I'll say that figure again, 92 per cent of teachers are saying that they cannot cope with normal learning, base level responsibilities," Dr Hawke said.
"We must also meet the needs of other children in the classroom, they need to be educated and they need to be educated well, they have that right.
"There is going to have to be a lot more training for our teachers, a lot more support, individual one-on-one even with students in the classroom, we need that for this inclusion to become a reality and something that is manageable."
Barry Irvin founded Giant Steps almost 30 years ago, when he couldn't find a school for his son Matthew.
"The thing that has tended to make me sad or even slightly offended is the generalisation of disability," Irvin said.
"When they say a school like Giant Steps is not required, I think it demonstrates a lack of understanding."…