26 May 2021

IHC going to Human Rights Tribunal over education discrimination of disabled

9:47 am on 26 May 2021

IHC New Zealand is taking a fight against our schooling system to court and is collecting evidence from around Aotearoa.

classroom school students desks pupils

Kathryn Sadgrove says in the past 27 years, she has seen young disabled people be continually treated unfairly in schools. File image Photo: Unsplash / Ruben Rodriguez

The advocacy group says young disabled people are being discriminated against and its legal team has started meeting with parents, educators and community groups around the country, ahead of a Human Rights Tribunal hearing.

The first hui was held in Whangārei yesterday.

Around 20 people told their stories to IHC lawyers and Kathryn Sadgrove was one of them.

Her son Thomas has Down's syndrome and she has coordinated a disability support group in Northland for the last 27 years.

In that time, young disabled people had been continually treated unfairly in schools, she said.

"I actually came out of that meeting and shook myself off because it was just so emotionally disturbing and thought-provoking and sad," she told RNZ.

Jackie, who cares for her grandson with a disability, said his learning and development was a daily struggle.

"There's a lot to talk about but it's nice to hear that people are listening and know what you're going through."

IHC first complained to the Human Rights Commission in 2008, saying disabled students were being excluded from education and denied support.

The Ministry of Education (MOE) opposed the claim and attempted to strike it out but late last year the Human Rights Tribunal ruled the IHC's legal fight could proceed to a hearing.

Earlier this week, RNZ reported that an autistic boy who was expelled has now been out of school for seven weeks, despite appealing to the Children's Commissioner.

In 2019, in an IHC survey of 300 parents of disabled children, 27 percent said a school had refused to enrol their child in the preceding five years, and 58 percent reported their child had been bullied.

IHC spokeswoman Trish Grant said there were many stories of discrimination in New Zealand schools, and the Whangārei hui brought even more to light.

"There was a lot of feeling in the room. A lot of sadness and frustration expressed, a lot of despair, a lot of anger."

New Zealand Principals' Federation president Perry Rush said the federation supported IHC's call for a system that did not discriminate.

"But I think we've gotta be really careful that we do not denigrate schools who are frequently caught in this vice, between a strong desire to be inclusive and a lack of resourcing."

For now, parents of children with disabilities like Jessica Ranger are trying to stay optimistic.

"To hear other stories is definitely heart-breaking," she said.

"But in saying that it's obviously music to my ears because with more people that [sic] stand up, hopefully we can all start to either create awareness, or change, which is what we need."

In a statement, MOE spokesperson Katrina Casey said the ministry was keen to work with IHC.

She said since 2018, the government had given about a billion dollars in new funding for learning support, after extensive consultation.

Casey said the MOE was reviewing its support for students with high-level needs.