Asperger's case in Auckland raises wider education issue

By Lydia Anderson news@hbtoday co nz

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Hawke's Bay schools are weighing the potential ramifications of a court decision that ruled an Auckland college illegally excluded a troublesome disabled teenager.

Earlier this week, a judge quashed the decision of Auckland's Green Bay High School to exclude a 14-year-old student with Asperger's syndrome for gross misconduct.

The boy's family sought a High Court judicial review after he was excluded last July following an argument with a teacher over a skateboard.

The family argued his behaviour did not amount to gross misconduct, and the school had used the incident as an excuse to remove him from its care.

Justice John Faire ruled the exclusion was illegal, saying the boy had a significant disability which, at times, "manifests itself in behavioural problems which include an inability to react when placed in a confrontational position".

The case follows concerns by IHC about disabled children being suspended for disability-related behaviour, rather than misconduct. The charity is suing the Ministry of Education, alleging state schools are illegally discriminating against disabled students.

Hawke's Bay Secondary Principals' Association president Mary Dixon, principal of Napier Girls' High School, said Hawke's Bay schools had "good processes" for students with disabilities such as Asperger's.

"It wouldn't normally result in a board hearing for any issues surrounding such a disability."

Bay schools were very caring and attended to every individual student's needs as much as possible, she said.

Secondary Principals' Association president Tom Parsons said principals were not involved in board of trustees' decisions to exclude students, but generally the safety of all students had to be weighed against individual pupils' rights.

"Unfortunately those two are not always compatible. In instances like this, sometimes the greatest good for the greatest number is paramount as far as [a board's] concerned.

"Whether or not that is supported legally is another issue."

School resources for educating disabled students in mainstream classes were "finite" and some behaviours could be unpredictable.

"If someone has got behaviour or psychological issues, that doesn't always follow a reliable pattern."

The Green Bay case was complicated, but if gross misconduct had occurred, "justice must be seen to be done", he said.

Ministry of Education guidelines stipulate no particular action or behaviour is considered gross misconduct, but it is "never trivial" and must be considered against a high threshold.

- HAWKES BAY TODAY

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