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(UK) Warwicks: Parents protest over SPED remarks

Feb 8, 2024, BBC News: Parents protest over special-needs-row councillors

Dozens of protesters have gathered at Warwickshire County Council headquarters after three councillors were accused of making offensive comments about children with special needs.

Holding placards, the campaigners stood outside Shire Hall ahead of a meeting to approve the county council's annual budget before gathering in the chamber gallery.

The Conservative councillors at the centre of the row have apologised for their comments, which were made during a council meeting last month.

Council leader Izzi Seccombe has admitted relations with children with special educational needs (SEND) and their families had been “damaged”....

The remarks included the claim some children were "just really badly behaved", and that parents were swapping diagnosis tips on social media.

“As parents and carers, we’re all just a bit fed up of jumping through hoops and this week’s comments just tipped us over the edge,” said Abbie Mundy, a mum of two, one of whom is autistic.

“The language used was damaging and they really need to take responsibility for their words.

“As soon as I saw the video, I felt sick, it’s out of date and they need to be educated more on SEND, they are making these decisions but they know nothing about it.”...

A third commented: “What I heard broke me, it makes you question what else are they saying? I have a five year old with autism and he deserves better.”...

An online petition, which also calls for the politicians to be removed from their roles, amassed more than 22,000 signatures in fewer than three days.

At the meeting, Mrs Seccombe made a statement about the backlash over the remarks.

She said the “upset caused” by the comments had left her “concerned and worried on a number of levels”.

“Firstly and most importantly, I’m concerned at the damage to our relationship with the SEND community and the confidence that Warwickshire children with SEND and their families have in us,” Mrs Seccombe said.

“There can be no doubt that this important relationship is damaged, which is a terrible shame, given the amount of shared work, effort and progress that we have all achieved over the past few years.

"And we must work to see what we can do to repair and sustain that relationship.”

As protesters watched on from the gallery, the leader said councillors had received abuse after the comments were shared widely on social media.

She said: “In undertaking our role as councillors, we should not fear personal threat or abuse”....

Selected comments from all three councillors were edited together in a video that was posted to the SEND Reform England account, which has more than 16,800 followers.

Audio from the clips continued as pictures cut away to black and white images depicting children in straitjackets, tied to radiators and preparing to be caned.

The video has been viewed more than 307,000 times on the channel alone, with users encouraged to “share this everywhere”.

Speaking to BBC CWR, the leader of the council has said she does not plan to remove the whip from the councillors, and backed a proposal for mandatory SEND training.

Mrs Seccombe said: "The comments have no reflection of me, my administration or this council."

She confirmed an investigation is ongoing as well, as discussions with the councillors about their positions.

"We do need to manage the expectations of those who have put in complaints and those councillors, we need to respect the right to be heard," she added.

A council-funded provider of autism awareness training courses in Warwickshire has offered to provide classes for the councillors to attend.

Tessa Morton, founder of Act for Autism, said “We’re not going to blame anybody for their ignorance. We’re going to help them understand.”

She said there are conferences coming up in the county this year.

Ms Morton said: “I would encourage, possibly invite those councillors to come to our conference. They are more than welcome to come, no charge. We’d love to see them there.”

This wasn’t your ordinary council meeting.

Sat in a packed-out gallery, parents holding placards watched on with eagle eyes as councillors had their say on a doozy of a scandal....



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