29 Nov 2016

Abuse claims at Dunedin school a witch-hunt - parent

6:58 pm on 29 November 2016

Investigations into alleged abuse and seclusion of pupils at a special school in Dunedin are a witch-hunt against excellent teachers, say some parents.

Sara Cohen School.

Sarah Cohen School. Photo: Screenshot / GoogleMaps

RNZ revealed this morning that Sara Cohen School is the subject ofmultiple investigations into claims of pupils being mistreated, including of children being hit, force-fed and having their wrists bent back.

One teacher aide has quit, and a teacher has been suspended.

The school also allegedly used a laundry as a seclusion room.

But some of the parents of pupils in the junior classroom being investigated contacted RNZ today to say there was another side to the story.

The mother of a student said to have been force-fed said that never happened and the two teachers in question were some of the best her son had ever had.

The woman - who RNZ has agreed not to name - said she had repeatedly challenged the allegation, but the school would not listen.

"It didn't matter what we said, particularly about the force-feeding incident. Maybe we gave consent about dabbing food [on her son's mouth], maybe that was misconstrued," the woman said.

"To see this... about how my kid was allegedly force-fed, well that's not true. And anyone who knows my child well enough knows the battle scars that would happen if you tried," she said.

The mother said she did not believe the complaint about the seclusion room either.

"Reading about the seclusion room, I had to laugh. What seclusion room in that classroom?"

The mother said the allegations had been pushed by a parent who was also on the board of trustees, but they were misguided attacks against great teachers.

She said she had lost confidence in the school, but only since the complaint incident, and had now withdrawn her son.

Her views have been backed up by another parent independently.

But the Human Rights Commission said it was extremely concerned, because children with disabilities were some of society's most vulnerable youngsters.

Education Minister Hekia Parata said she had known about the school's problems all year, and her ministry was dealing with it.

Ms Parata said the allegations were unacceptable and her ministry had taken action to install a limited statutory manager because of their seriousness.

In a statement, that manager, Nicola Hornsey, said her employment investigation was ongoing, and would probably take until the end of the year.