10 Nov 2022

'Horrible experience': Parents angry over no resolution as school excludes autistic son from classes

11:48 am on 10 November 2022
A young boy writes at a desk at a primary school.

The family say the school told them their son could not return until a secure fence was completed, which may be February. Photo: 123RF

A family has complained to the Human Rights Commission over a school's refusal to let their five-year-old autistic son attend.

Parents Leon and Haylee McDonald said they were frustrated the Education Ministry was unable to order Woodville School to let the boy resume classes.

They told RNZ their son attended the school for two half-days in October before the school said he could no longer attend because he twice ran out of the school on to a road.

The McDonalds said the school told them their son could not return until a secure fence was completed, which might not happen until February.

They said the boy had a teacher aide, funded by the Education Ministry for 28.5 hours a week, which was almost the entire school day, and the school had plenty of time and help to prepare for their son's arrival.

Haylee McDonald said the family was blind-sided and saddened by the school's decision to stop his attendance and it was difficult to find care for her son during the day if he was not at school.

She said Ministry of Education staff had been very helpful, but it was clear they had no power to tell the school what to do.

"The sadness and the anxiety has turned into just anger," she said.

"It's been two weeks of this and it seems we're no closer to a confirmed resolution.

"It's been a horrible experience."

Haylee McDonald said her son had attended daycare for four years and she expected it might take a couple of weeks for him to adjust to school.

The Education Ministry's hautū for the South region, Nancy Bell, said it was trying to resolve the situation and had a plan to help the boy attend school.

"We are funding a fence for the school site. Construction is currently under way. We will also provide temporary fencing in the interim," she said.

School principal Wes Va'ai-Wells said in a statement the issue was complex and privacy obligations meant he could not discuss specifics.

"What we can say is that the board and the senior teaching team see safety as their number one priority. We must be able to provide a safe environment for the tamariki we are responsible for," he said.

"Where we have a safety issue, the responsible thing to do is make sure that we manage that risk appropriately, for the benefit of all those involved. We think this is in line with the expectations of Worksafe NZ, health and safety legislation and the Ministry of Education."

Last month Youth Law and the Children's Commissioner urged the government to set up a disputes panel that could resolve disputes between schools and families.

In September, the Education Review Office warned that some schools discouraged enrolments by disabled children and called for a tougher line on those that persistently denied them their rights.

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