Asperger's expulsion: Ministry denies lack of support

By Patrice Dougan

The Ministry of Education has hit back at suggestions it did not provide enough support to a school which later expelled a teenager with Asperger's.

It came after lawyers for Auckland's Green Bay High yesterday told a court the legal action against it should be directed against the ministry for not providing the school with adequate funding to cope with his educational needs and challenging behaviour.

The 14-year-old, known as pupil A, was thrown out of the high school following a row with a teacher over a skateboard 10 months ago.

His family took the school to court over its decision, saying his behaviour last July did not amount to gross misconduct and the school had used the incident as an excuse to remove him from its care.

Today the Ministry of Education's head of sector enablement and support, Katrina Casey, issued a statement saying it had provided "significant support" to A during his time at Green Bay High and his previous schools.

"Funding for resources has never been an issue. At all times, decisions have been based on the professional judgement of a psychologist using professional diagnostic assessments and observations," Ms Casey said.

"A ministry psychologist, who has worked with the child for two-and-a-half years, supported him through his time at the school and a teacher's aide was also provided. In fact, additional teacher aide funding and support was provided beyond the initial plan developed for the child when he started at Green Bay High."

It said one application for interim relief funding was turned down because a "high level of support" was already in place.

She said A's psychologist was highly committed to him, and "understands his needs and what it takes for him to succeed in a mainstream schooling environment".

However, the statement contradicted what lawyer for the school, Richard Harrison, yesterday told a judicial review into the expulsion decision at the High Court at Auckland, in which he said the school had struggled on the resources available to it.

The school had tried repeatedly to gain extra funding to provide appropriate education and supervision for A, but had been turned down, he said, with one explanation being a tight budget.

Staff had gone "above and beyond" to engage with A, Mr Harrison said, but they "couldn't cope with the unpredictability, the eruptions".

"The school can't be held responsible for doing their best but not getting funding."

The principal was concerned for the safety of pupils and her staff, as well as wanting to ensure other students' lessons were not disrupted by A's "unpredictable" behaviour.

It could be argued the Ministry of Education should be the respondents to the dispute, he said, given the lack of resources provided to the school and the fact there was no secondary age special needs school in the Auckland area to provide suitable education for pupils such as A, something Mr Harrison described as a "major issue".

However lawyer Simon Judd, acting for the family, said resources were not the issue at stake, but whether A's behaviour over the skateboard row constituted gross misconduct of the kind to warrant an expulsion.

"You can't use punishment of a 14-year-old student as a way of dealing with the problem you've got in getting funding from the ministry. That's just not fair and it's not permitted under legislation," he said.

Pupil A's behaviour did not amount to gross misconduct, Mr Judd said, arguing that if another pupil had done the same thing they would not have been expelled. It also had to be taken in light of A's Asperger's.

"A reasonable principal, knowing the history and knowing the issue with this student, could not have reasonable grounds for saying this particular incident that happened on that day, in itself, was enough to justify the suspension."

Judge Justice John Faire reserved his decision until tomorrow at the earliest.

- APNZ

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