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Disability royal commission told how child was ‘dragged down stairs’ and ostracised by staff – ABC News



The first public hearing of Australia’s disability royal commission has heard how a 13-year-old girl with Down syndrome was dragged down stairs, ostracised by staff and humiliated by her primary school teachers.

Key points:

  • Witness AAA said her daughter was actively singled out from participating in class activities
  • She said her daughter had been “screamed at” by teachers and was left feeling “petrified”
  • Witness AAA said the school blamed her when she raised concerns

The girl’s parent, known as Witness AAA, said her daughter had problems with her vision, and an intellectual impairment but was a “great learner” who was “happy” and “independent”.

Witness AAA said the issues with her daughter’s education started as early as Year 1 when she was actively singled out and prevented from participating in normal class activities.

She said her daughter’s teacher constantly screamed at her, she was given an iPad to keep her busy, and had to sit on a bathmat in the classroom when she needed “time out”.

She recalled one incident when her daughter was separated from her peers during a school performance.

“She was doing the same performance at the same standard as all of the other children but she wasn’t allowed to stand as part of the group,” Witness AAA said.

“It just breaks my heart.”

Witness AAA also described other distressing incidents in the classroom.

“There was an imaginary line at the back of the classroom that the kids weren’t meant to cross,” she said.

“When my daughter crossed over the line, [the teacher] just stood at the front of the classroom and just screamed at her, and basically threatened her.

“There was no explanation why she was in the wrong place.”

Witness AAA said in Year 1 her daughter was often left to colour in pictures without access to the curriculum and did not receive permission forms for extracurricular activities.

Five days of Year 2 left Witness AAA’s daughter feeling “petrified” and enduring “severe anxiety”, Witness AAA said.

She said the teacher was seen dragging her daughter down the stairs without her glasses at a pace she “couldn’t maintain”.

“She used to run out of the classroom and go and hide behind the long flowing skirts of her Year 1 teacher because that’s where she felt safe,” Witness AAA said.

“[At home] she was screaming, slamming doors, she was in her room yelling ‘sit,’ she was hurting the dog, she was hurting me, she was hysterical.

“She was just totally out of character.”

She said her daughter was given a spot to sit during lunchtime that had a sign with the letter “L” on a pillar above her and agreed that children might connect “L” for “loser”.

“Not being able to sit where she wants to sit or with her friends at lunchtime was awful,” Witness AAA said.

‘The principal blamed me’

She said the teacher did not accept her advice and did not give her daughter access to resources that helped her with her sensory needs.

Witness AAA said she was blamed when she raised the problems.

“The principal blamed me [saying] that I had a problem or a relationship issue with the teacher, which wasn’t the case,” she said.

She enrolled her daughter into a welcoming school and she now learns at an equally inclusive high school, which has indicated that she is capable of getting a regular job when she graduates.

“She wasn’t special at that school. She wasn’t different. She was just one of the four or 500 kids at the school,” she said.

Dr Lisa Bridle, senior consultant of Community Resource Unit Ltd, said Witness AAA’s testimony was in line with things that are regularly reported to the disability support group.

She spoke of one case where a teacher admitted hitting a child with a disability but when the parent approached the school leadership, they were told the child “probably didn’t even know that he had been hit”.

Dr Bridle said there were restrictive practices where students with a disability may be placed in a locked “sensory” room or something like a storage cupboard.

“It … felt to me like it was a pen that would hold an animal,” Dr Bridle said.

She said she had had occasions of parents finding unexplained finger-mark bruising on their children or witnessing rough handling.

Dr Bridle said about seven years ago, when her son who has Down syndrome was in high school, the school told her he would be suspended for longer periods until he had no choice but to leave the school.

“[We were told] our son did not have a single friend at the school, that the teachers felt he was just being baby sat, [and] that we were burdening the school,” Dr Bridle said.

“[I] have a letter in writing that he was a financial burden to the school.”

She said she did not judge parents who sent their child to a special school, and had been tempted herself, but that she would eventually like to see an end to the dual system when mainstream schools were more inclusive.

“I think it reinforces a myth that special places are the right places for people with disability and it’s a theft of resources that are best placed in the regular school system,” Dr Bridle said.

Independent Advocacy North Queensland chief executive officer Debra Wilson said her organisation had not heard cases of physical abuse but the stories of segregation were similar.

“We definitely hear from our parents that the negative and the demoralising impact that it has on their child being segregated, being made to feel completely different,” Ms Wilson said.

“The child’s disability is not taken into account — there is no inclusion.” Ms Wilson said.

Chair Ronald Sackville AO QC said focusing on education allowed consideration of the significance of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UN Convention).

The Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of People with Disability is holding the four-day hearing in the north Queensland city of Townsville and a final report is expected to be delivered in 2022.

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