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Parents “heartbroken” that Education Ministry misled them

Parents “heartbroken” that Education Ministry has misled them about Salisbury

Strong legal case that the closure of Salisbury School would be a breach of human rights

Parents of children with intellectual impairment who want their daughters to attend Salisbury School say they are “heartbroken” that the Ministry of Education has misled them for years about the school being closed.

The parents’ statements are included in further feedback from Salisbury this month to the Ministry relating to its future. The school is open and still awaiting Education Minister Hon Hekia Parata’s interim decision of whether or not the school will be closed later this year. Consultation started in June 2016. The Minister first attempted to close the school in 2012 but lost in the High Court.

The Salisbury roll is currently at 10 after nine of the 2016 students were given extensions and one new student, Grace Tobin, started this week.

Parents’ statements

Ramaria Tobin, of Cheviot, is the mother of 14 year old Grace, who has autism, epilepsy and is intellectually disabled.

Ramaria says she enquired about a placement for Grace at Salisbury Residential School more than a year ago, after Grace was accepted into IWS. She was advised by a Ministry of Education employee that Salisbury would be closing, and therefore it wouldn’t be possible for Grace to go there. The Ministry staff member said the conversation was just between the two of them. After speaking with other Ministry staff, Ramaria eventually got advice directly from Salisbury School that it was still open and Grace could go there if she was to request a placement.

“I feel like I’ve been lied to and misled. I wasn’t told everything and Grace has missed out. She could have been going there for over a year already.”

Ramaria, her husband and Grace visited Salisbury last month and quickly decided Salisbury best met Grace’s complex needs. “We love it. Everyone is so welcoming and friendly. It’s perfect for her,” she said.

Grace finally started at Salisbury on Thursday 16th March, more than a year after her parents asked about a placement at the school. She is the school's first new student this year, bringing the roll to 10.

In other cases, parents have talked about their girls with intellectual impairments or autism but no behavioural issues are being blocked from the Ministry’s Intensive Wrap-around Service (IWS) even though their educational needs aren’t being met in non-residential settings. It is a requirement to be accepted into the IWS before students are eligible to enrol at Salisbury.

For example, a family with a 14 year old daughter, who has intellectual disabilities and complex social issues was told their daughter did not meet the IWS criteria “and the school is closing down anyway”.

The mother said: “I was heartbroken for her. I’m not sure what we’re going to do for her. I feel like she’s been forgotten about, she’s just struggling along.”

Deputy Principal’s statement

Meanwhile, Deputy Principal at Naenae College in Lower Hutt, Nicholas Richards, said he’s “beyond frustrated” at the IWS blocking a particularly vulnerable girl with intellectual impairment at his school.

He worked with the school’s special education needs co-ordinator and guidance counsellor, with input from Child Youth and Family Services and the Police over the course of a year on behalf of the student.

“It was literally hours and hours of work accumulating and documenting evidence,” he said.

“At the end of it all, we were told she didn’t meet the criteria as she wasn’t severe enough. I struggle with that. If she doesn’t get into IWS, I don’t know who does. She essentially ticks every box in terms of being ‘at risk’.

“The whole process was fraught. It really felt like the ministry was a gatekeeper trying to stop this student from getting into Salisbury and getting the education and support she needs. The system is essentially abandoning these kids who are in desperate need. She’s now being managed in alternative education and was moved into a family group home, which, as a whole, is a very compromised outcome for this child.”

Salisbury School’s position

Salisbury School Board of Trustees Chair John Kane says the Ministry of Education’s duplicity when it comes to Salisbury is unacceptable.

“We’re told by the Ministry it is being completely open minded about Salisbury’s future and it is promoting Salisbury when in fact we are hearing the opposite from families. The Minister has stated that there is no demand for the school. Clearly there is,” he says. “There are currently 10 students at Salisbury School but there would be many more if the Ministry stopped actively preventing enrolments.

“The parents who have come forward to us are just the tip of the iceberg. We want to hear from others who have been told that Salisbury is not an option. Families need to be at the heart of what the education system provides, and they’re being shut out. We urge other families to contact us and share their stories so that the facts can be exposed.

“Meanwhile, Ministry staff have admitted in a paper to the Minister that they had given inaccurate advice on Salisbury. The Ministry is unreliable and its statements on Salisbury cannot be trusted. We urge the Minister to listen to families and education professionals.”

Legal opinion

The latest Salisbury feedback submitted to the Minister was a response to additional background materials provided in December 2016 relating to Halswell Residential College becoming co-educational. In the additional materials, the Ministry acknowledged it had previously failed to inform the Minister of a relevant research paper on the safety of co-educational residential facilities.

Based on legal advice from Russell McVeagh, Salisbury’s latest feedback to the Minister shows “that there are strong grounds that a decision to close Salisbury would be unlawful”.

The advice states that the IWS criteria for eligibility are in breach of the law on the ground of discrimination. The service discriminates against girls and against students with autism and intellectual disabilities but no conduct disorder (behavioural issues).

What next

The Ministry has advised a decision about the school’s future will be made before the end of Term 1.

Meanwhile, the school encourages parents and educationalists from across New Zealand to come forward with their stories of trying but failing to get a student into the IWS. Please email your situation and contact details

The Salisbury School proposal

With the introduction of the Ministry of Education’s IWS in 2012, young people with autism and complex intellectual disabilities have fallen through the special education gap. To meet the challenge of this policy change consequence, Salisbury School developed a proposal early last year for the school to become a specialist facility for young people on the autistic spectrum and with intellectual disabilities - as many of these high needs New Zealanders are not getting into the IWS. The proposal also recommends a different enrolment pathway, alongside the IWS.

The Salisbury proposal offers a solution based on current international literature and best practice, utilising Salisbury’s current facilities and expertise, and requiring no further funding than was granted in the 2015 school year for Salisbury’s notional roll of 30 students. The Minister of Education has rejected this proposal to date.

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