Harassment rife, say parents

By Genevieve Helliwell

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Western Bay parents are speaking out against bullying and harassment of disabled students, saying it's rife in the Western Bay.

Some parents have found schools to be "incredibly supportive" of special needs children while others felt schools had let their children slip through the cracks.

One parent, Angela Griffiths, said many people misunderstood special needs children and this often led to bullying. She had decided to speak out after her 13-year-old daughter was physically and verbally bullied at school.

"My daughter was born with a heart condition and has had four open heart surgeries, the first when she was two days old. She is a bit behind because she had a lack of oxygen when she was a baby ... but she's a very positive person and she will talk to anyone but the kids don't accept her because she's a bit different," Mrs Griffiths said.

"This year she was physically bullied. There was one incident in term 3 where a child kicked her in the leg and, because of her heart medication, she bruises really easily and she had a very sore leg afterward. Then, at the same time, a boy pushed her into a cubby-hole.

"In term 1 I saw red when another child slapped her across the face."

Mrs Griffiths raised the incidents with the school principal.

"She really stood up and took notice of what was going on. After about 40 minutes she gave me an A4 piece of paper filled with information and ways to move forward."

The school has given Mrs Griffith's daughter a job in the library. She is now involved in the kapa haka group and has begun to play her first sport, volleyball.

"What they're doing for her is wonderful. It's really heart-warming to have a school that supports you and tries to make school life as easy as possible for kids with special needs because they have a hard enough time as it is," Mrs Griffiths said.

"I know of quite a few families who have experienced bullying with their special needs kids. I'm not the only one ... and I'm speaking out on behalf of a lot of people because I want to see a difference."

She supported the recommendations made in the Disability Convention annual report, which highlighted major issues facing New Zealanders living with disabilities. Two of the recommendations were implementing anti-bullying programmes in schools and promoting inclusive education for children with special needs.

Another Western Bay parent, who did not want to be named, said one of her two special needs children was often targeted by bullies.

But after transferring her child from the school, she has noticed "an incredible improvement" in her child and the attitudes of other students.

- Bay of Plenty Times

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