Opinion: Accountability and Special Education

By Colleen Brown

What will it take for schools to be fully inclusive of kids with disabilities?

I feel like I sound like a broken record.

For a long time now I have asked for strict accountability about what schools do about welcoming students with disabilities into their fold.

Despite the great words in the New Zealand Disability Strategy - both the original one and the new one – schools do not universally welcome students with disabilities onto their school campus. Oh the evaders are sly about how they do it.

They load the parents up with guilt if they don’t get the best education for their child by enrolling them at another school that could more competently meet their needs, have the skills, the resources.

They tug at the heart strings, appeal to parents’ conscience; make it seem that their child would be neglected, and possibly unsafe at their school. The words…’we can’t guarantee,’ strikes terror into the heart of any parent wanting to enrol their child into a school.

How dare they!

Over the weekend I heard yet again the story of the mother who visited three schools in order to get her child enrolled. Three schools that rejected her – ever so nicely. The child had a dowry – a bundle of ORS hours. But that was not enough. Sanctimoniously the schools said words like – we can fund your child for the hours they have got ORS cover for, but we are not taking any money out of our operational grant for them. Really! All children are covered by the operational grant.

I’ll say it again – all children are funded by the schools operational grant.

And so the parents had to drag their child around like a commodity they wanted to ‘sell’ to a possibly disinterested buyer. Principals and their team have all the right words - ‘I wish we could do more, the system simply doesn’t provide enough support, it is a matter of resourcing’ and so it goes on. The schools take on the role of the victim. Let’s be clear – the victims here are the families and the child. Schools are funded to accept all children via their operational funding; to refuse to do so flouts current policy.

What can you do? Complain – and we have the places to go - The Commissioner for Children, Human Right and of course the Ministry of Education.

I have some questions to ask – how many principals and teachers have read and understand The NZ Disability Strategy? And if they have read it – how many teaching professionals follow it?

What I’d like to see is more accountability. I’d like to see compulsory training in the NZ Disability Strategy which also adheres to the principles of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. I’d also like to see parents of disabled children enrolled in schools across the country asked by the MoE to evaluate their enrolment experience. Then I’d like to see those schools that flout the NZ Disability Strategy called to explain.

To start the ball rolling Disability Connect will shortly be conducting a questionnaire to all our thousands of families asking them what their latest experiences in enrolling their child at school was like.

At the heart of this are children. As a country we proclaim that NZ is a great place for children. Well if that is so then it has to be a great place for all children.

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