9 Mar 2017

Wellington school wants disabled kids exempt from zone

8:53 am on 9 March 2017

An overcrowded Wellington school is hoping it can introduce a school zone without blocking disabled children from enrolling.

Berhampore School principal Mark Potter and parent Alana Spragg.

Berhampore School principal Mark Potter and parent Alana Spragg. Photo: RNZ / John Gerritsen

Berhampore School is a "magnet school" that attracts children from other parts of the city because of its good reputation for working with kids with special needs.

But the school is considering an enrolment scheme that could prevent those children from going to the school.

Principal Mark Potter, said it needed more buildings because it had classroom capacity for 240 students, but enrolments were nearing 300.

"We're more than full, we're over full," he said.

Mr Potter said an enrolment scheme was not a formal requirement for getting more classrooms, but it would prove to the Education Ministry that the school was managing enrolments and not poaching students from other areas.

He said most of the school's students came from its immediate neighbourhood.

Among those from further afield were 20 to 25 of the 50 children at the school with high special needs.

If an enrolment scheme was put in place, such students would have to enter a ballot in order to gain entry to the school, he said.

Mr Potter said the school wanted to exempt disabled children from other areas from the ballot requirement.

"What we would like to see is that possibility that parents could exercise a choice to come here because some schools do struggle to support the children," he said.

"A lot of parents don't want to go through the stress and the challenges of trying to fit into a school that isn't set up for their child."

Berhampore's board of trustees chairperson, Giovanni Tiso, said it was still consulting with the community about whether it should have a zone and the ministry had indicated an exemption was not possible.

Wellington parents Justine Fletcher and Giovanni Tiso. "There is a massive equity gap."

Giovanni Tiso Photo: RNZ/John Gerritsen

"It's a tricky thing because the moment you allow for the exemption you're really admitting that inclusion just doesn't happen everywhere and I think the Ministry of Education is a little bit reluctant to do that," he said.

Mr Tiso said making out-of-zone children to go to their local schools would not force those schools to do a better job of supporting disabled children.

"It would be preferable if every school was inclusive but it's not the reality of it and we're not going to make it the reality just by zoning."

Mr Tiso said the school could accept out-of-zone disabled children if it had a special needs unit, but that was not an inclusive form of education.

'It's become like a refugee school' - mother

A mother with a child at the school, Alana Spragg, said she did not live in Berhampore, but chose the school because it provided the right environment for her daughter's complex special needs.

"It's become like a refugee school for people like me that can't go into their local schools because you don't feel like they've got the resources or that they'll be able to meet your child's needs," she said

Ms Spragg said her child was already enrolled at Berhampore so would not be affected if a zone was introduced, but she worried about the impact on other families.

"I'd hate to think that other children weren't given that choice or the opportunity to come to Berhampore," she said.

"It would be really sad."

Ministry to discuss enrolment scheme

The Education Ministry's head of sector enablement and support, Katrina Casey, said the school had raised an important issue that they would discuss in more depth.

"We want to better understand what the impact of an enrolment scheme would be on future students with disabilities from out of the area, and to understand where those students are coming from," she said.

Ms Casey said every child with a disability had a right to attend their local school and get an education that responded to their needs, and many other Wellington schools also successfully included children with additional learning needs.

She said most schools had enrolment schemes because it gave them more control over their numbers and was the obvious first step for any school at risk of overcrowding.

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