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IHC files discrimination complaint over disabled students

IHC files discrimination complaint over disabled students

Media release 30 April 2014

IHC today filed a complaint with the Human Rights Review Tribunal to win equal rights for disabled students in schools.

High profile Queen’s Counsel Frances Joychild will lead the legal battle with the Ministry of Education. The Auckland barrister specialises in human rights and recently represented parents in the successful legal action over payments for carers of adult disabled children.

IHC’s complaint goes to the heart of the issue that has West Auckland’s Green Bay High School and the Ministry of Education struggling to resolve the exclusion of a 14 year-old boy with Asperger syndrome. The student was involved in a tussle with a teacher over a skateboard. In February this year the High Court overturned the school’s decision to exclude him.

IHC Director of Advocacy Trish Grant says the Green Bay case illustrates what can go wrong when a school doesn’t have proper support in place for a student with special needs.

Trish says IHC the Green Bay student is one of many in New Zealand facing discrimination because their schools don’t have the resources or systems in place to support students with disabilities. She says behavioural issues do occur, but disciplinary procedures are being overused instead of proper supports being put in place.

“These students are legally entitled to attend their local schools. If they are prevented from enrolling, or treated differently from their non-disabled peers, then it’s a human rights issue.”

But IHC’s beef is not with schools, principals or teachers. It has the Ministry of Education in its sights over the policies and practices in schools that lead to discrimination. “This is not anti-school, anti-teacher – this is pro disabled children’s rights to have their needs met,” she says.

Trish says many children experience unjustified discrimination in schools throughout New Zealand. Depending on the response from the Ministry of Education, the case is likely to be heard later this year or early next year. IHC is funding the legal action, which is expected to cost $350,000.

The legal action is being taken under Part 1A of the Human Rights Act which prohibits the government from breaching the child’s right to be free from discrimination. In this case the claim is about the child’s right to education.

IHC is not planning to put forward individual families as plaintiffs at the hearing. “We are the plaintiff – we didn’t want families exposed and pressured in this way.” However it will be putting evidence from families to the Tribunal about their child’s experience in the education system. She says human rights and children’s organisations are showing serious interest.

Evidence will also be presented from schools that will highlight the disincentives that exist to include disabled children.
Ends

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