Teuila Fuatai

Teuila Fuatai is a reporter for the NZ Herald

Bullies target disabled students

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Educating mainstream students about their special needs classmates could help minimise bullying, a local special school assistant principal says.

Kaka Street Special School associate principal Deb Hudson said the school worked with several mainstream schools in the region which ran satellite classes for special needs students.

"Staff in the satellite classes do go round the school at the beginning of the year to explain what a satellite class is.

"We try to do a lot of education in the host [mainstream] schools."

Her comments follow the release this week of the Disability Convention annual report, which highlights major issues facing New Zealanders living with disabilities.

Bullying, violence and harassment of disabled students in schools are flagged.

Several government agencies were found to be severely lacking in their delivery of services to disabled people.

Disability and race relations matters were the most common complaints made to the Human Rights Commission, the report found.

Mrs Hudson said bullying had not been an issue at Kaka Street.

"We've got a higher adult ratio than mainstream schools so if there are [bullying] issues we could pick up on them sooner rather than later.

"We [also] work on a lot of self-esteem programmes for our older students."

Mainstream schools which hosted satellite classes in partnership with Kaka Street also participated in "reverse-integration" - where mainstream students took part in activities with special needs pupils, she said.

IHC advocacy director Trish Grant said school enrolment, access to the curriculum and being part of normal school life were difficult for many disabled children.

The complaints process could also be challenging for them and their families. "They have difficulty getting any level of response or accountability when schools fail to deliver the law or education policy."

A report recommendation to make inclusive education an enforceable right was a step in the right direction, Ms Grant says.

Schools, boards of trustees and principals could then be held accountable for decisions which impinged on this right and the delivery of education to all students, she said.

To address bullying and harassment, the report recommended the Education Ministry implement a standard anti-bullying programme ensuring schools were safe for disabled students.

Negative attitudes towards disabled children were also addressed.

"What parents tell us is there is a real lack of accountability in some schools in the way they behave towards their child," Ms Grant said.

"Certainly disabled students experience really high rates of bullying.

"We think that is a violation of their rights in the learning environment."

Currently, IHC is seeking a declaration that the Education Ministry and schools are treating intellectually and physically impaired pupils unlawfully.

The Human Rights Commission agreed to take up IHC's complaint, originally filed four years ago, alleging state schools were discriminating against thousands of disabled pupils.

Ms Grant said a statement of reply had been filed by Education Ministry lawyers and discussions were underway regarding the IHC claim. Should IHC succeed, the Government could be found in breach of the Human Rights Act and face orders for compensation.

The Education Ministry said issues raised in the Disability Convention report were not new.

Parents should work with the ministry to resolve any enrolment difficulties, special education group manager Brian Coffey said.

Mr Coffey said a number of recommendations in the report were already being implemented, including anti-bullying programmes in schools.

- BAY OF PLENTY TIMES

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