Catherine Delahunty
Exclusion case shows need for change

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.

3 thoughts on “Exclusion case shows need for change

  1. This is such an important issue. i have served on a BoT and had to deal with such cases from a Board perspective, trying to balance the needs and rights of the pupil concerned, other pupils, staff, and families. Without question the issues are worse because of a lack of resources and support.

    I agree with your comments except the last. I don’t see it as something to be adjudicated. That implies a right and a wrong. Instead, situations like this need to be sorted and supported.

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  2. I know nothing about this case either. But, reading Stuff,

    The boy ran into the office area and closed the door in the teacher’s face, injuring the teacher’s head and arm. Other staff had to restrain the boy from attacking the teacher.

    If this is true then this decision is a disgrace.

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  3. AS the parent of a child with Asperger’s and having been a secondary teacher as well, I know both how heart-breaking it is to see the difficulties such a young person has in school situations and how hard it is for teachers to understand the best ways to deal with Asperger’s children.
    Basically, they lack a sense of how to deal with the world – if something is not clear to them, they get confused and frustrated. You have to be very patient.
    Very few Asperger’s children are actually of low intelligence, frequently they are very bright indeed, super-bright even. Their problems lie in social interaction, over-reaction to stimuli such as loud voices, high emotions, too many people, more than one person speaking at a time and often just not understanding what they are being asked or told to do. They do not understand figurative language and we all use a lot of it without realising we are.

    I think that it is high time that teachers were given more training in dealing with “difficult” bright children and more classroom support for the less able students.

    This child may be excluded from Green Bay, but he will take his disability with him to the next school. He isn’t intellectually impaired, but he is special needs – Asperger’s is high-functioning autism but is rarely recognised as special needs because in many ways they do well at school.

    My heart goes out to the child, his family and the school.

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