26 Aug 2014

Plea for disabled to attend local school

7:34 am on 26 August 2014

The Human Rights Commission and disability groups want political parties to pledge to enforce the right of children with disabilities to go to their local school.

child writing

Photo: PHOTO NZ

They say too many schools are giving disabled children only a partial education or are refusing to enrol them at all.

Though some of the major parties' are promising more resourcing for children with special needs, none go as far as saying they will enforce the right of enrolment.

Enforcing the right to enrol was recently recommended by the group that monitors New Zealand's adherence to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

The Human Rights Commission is a member of the UN group, and its disability rights commissioner Paul Gibson said education was probably the single biggest area in which children with disabilities were being denied their rights.

"The children are not welcomed into local schools, being told to go further down the road to a school, they're not supported or reasonably accommodated when they're in the school.

"We believe that the law needs to be strengthened to make an inclusive education for all children, including disabled children, an enforceable right.

He said the wording of the Education Act reinforced the idea that unlike other children, disabled children's right to education was dependent on the provision of extra resources.

Paul Gibson said the wording of the Education Act reinforced the idea that, unlike other children, disabled children's right to education is dependent on the provision of extra resources.

For example, he said, disabled children are often sent home if there are not enough resources or teacher aides rather than other children. He believes the attitude of a school's leaders is more important than problem of resources.

The director of advocacy for the IHC, Trish Grant, said there was no point having the right under the legislation to go to a local school if it cannot be enforced.

"We've got a gap between the intent of legislation and policy, and the practice."

Autism New Zealand chief executive Dane Dougan is another who supports the call for an enforceable right to enrol, but said it was important to create an environment within schools where children with special education needs could flourish.

Principals Federation president Philip Harding said children with special needs should be included in their local school, but it was a complex issue.

"It's not a simple generalisation to say all children with special education needs can successfully be fully included in a mainstream classroom with their peers all the time."

Mr Harding said he was at a loss to see how enforcing it would be the right way to progress it.