by Catherine Delahunty
The exclusion of a young man with Asperger’s syndrome from Green Bay High School, overturned yesterday, was obviously a painful episode in the life of the boy, his family and his school.
I don’t claim to know the details of this case, but from what I have heard I think it highlights two key changes that need to happen for schools and for families.
Firstly, families should have the right to challenge schools if they feel they need to without having to go to court. Secondly, resources are needed to meet the special needs of kids on the ground.
The boy was apparently excluded from school because of a tussel with a teacher over a skateboard.
Youth law don’t often take such cases to court, but took up the boy’s case because they say it’s a crucial test case for youth rights and the rights of students with impairments.
The issues for students with impairments are numerous. It is also not simple for over worked teachers dealing with the wide range of needs in the student body of any school.
However, Youth Law tell me that many of the cases to do with school suspensions or exclusions brought to them by families are about the rights of disabled students.
These cases show that the theory of inclusion – a major goal of the Ministry of Education – is not going to work unless resources are provided and attitudes change.
Support staff are a vital part of the picture. But, in my discussions with parents and with schools I have been made aware that the current system can lead to perverse incentives so that while some schools are doing a great job, others are “counselling out” students with impairments.
The Green Bay student’s court decision showed that this young man was not getting sufficient support and that the school was genuinely concerned about the safety of all students.
Schools need proper resources to be able to meet the needs of their students, but equally students with special needs cannot be excluded because a school believes their behaviour might set a damaging precedent: such students are not testing boundaries as much as struggling to survive stressful encounters.
I know the difference as I pushed boundaries at high school to achieve political change, not because I was vulnerable student whose behaviour was a cry for support.
Everyone needs help in situations like this and an independent body is needed to adjudicate in difficult situations like in the case Youth Law have just won.