Today has been a hard day. I’ve heard from parents who’ve children have been assaulted at schools that department investigations have found that the teacher isn’t liable for misconduct. I've seen footage of children being assaulted in special education programmes. I've had parents crying on the phone to me because they are exhausted and devastated by the trauma their autistic children are experiencing daily at school.
This week I’ve had my six year old suspended under Sue Ellery’s zero tolerance policies. For the second time this year. He’s six.
I’ve seen teachers and EAs struggling and burning out and exhausted because they are underpaid and under resourced and working as hard as they can against a department that doesn’t care about them either.
To monitor, regulate and implement a reduction and elimination strategy for restrictive practices is a fundamental obligation but failure of all WA public agencies (according to the state disability Strategy, state Disability Action Plan and the Convention for the Rights of People with Disability (CRPD)). Restrictive Practices (called Team Teach in WA) are frequently implemented incorrectly and inappropriately and often safety and intervention are used as a mask to hide, assault and abuse. When this is the case, how does Minister Ellery justify spending over $1.5million to further upskill teachers in physical restraint, endorsing the breach of human rights? When questioned by the Disability Royal Commission and Greens MP, Hon. Dr Brad Pettit, both Ellery and the Department of Education displayed a blatant obstinate attitude in regard to the physical restraint of children when in the care of WA Education. It disgusts and dismays so many and yet, they simply don't care.
Anyone watching the Disability Royal Commission public hearing #24 would have thought that witness Stuart Percival had been struck down by some affliction when asked to define "Inclusive Education". Despite Australia's commitment to the United Nations Convention for the Rights of People with Disability, Article 24 that states the human right to Inclusive Education for all Australian students, Western Australia frustratingly ignores and delays the implementation of Inclusive Education.
Segregation is created, supported and publicly announced as if it's a good thing. Minister Ellery constantly hides behind the excuse that segregated education is a "parent choice" rather than an easy excuse used to gaslight overwhelmed and desperate parents. Opting out of the bits they don't like is not an option. We parents are a wake up to it, Minister Ellery. The game is up.
Segregating and othering those who are different. It's ableist and racist. We see you.
Sadly Minister Ellery seemed unaffected by the alarming statistic revealed during legislative council recently, confirming that one third of school suspensions are students with disability. Not mentioned, but just as devastating, is the rates of suspensions of aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children. Students with disabilities are twice as likely than their non-disabled peers to be subject to exclusionary discipline and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children are three times more likely than their peers to be excluded.
No targets have been set in WA to reduce these alarming statistics. No care or concern for these disadvantaged populations at all. No strategies in place to reduce the school to prison pipeline. Leading education academics such as Prof Linda Graham of Queensland's Centre for Inclusive Education at QUT - ignored and dismissed.
Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA). Potentially the most offensive part of the answers provided to Dr Pettit in Legislative Council, where the balled faced endorsement of child abuse under ABA that is practices in WA schools. Minister Ellery's answers argued that the "new ABA" is neurodiversity affirming, effectively gaslighting and demeaning the decades of advocacy led by autistic and disabled survirors of ABA, as well as the reams of evidence produced by experts and organistations such as Tri-Care and the NHS. When survivors of a system come out and communicate to society that something is abusive, that it's traumatising, that it leads to masking and contributes to mental health challenges and PTSD, it would be nice if those in power would believe them.
Believe the victims. Listen to autistic and neurodivergent people.
I recently met with the Director General of the WA education Department, where I was accused of approaching these issues in an "adversarial manner". Yes, I'm adversarial. I m angry, I am hurt and I am disappointed. I'm tired of receiving dozens of messages daily from parents whos children are suffering in WA schools, receiving no help. I'm exhausted by the fact that, to get those in power to even pretend to listen, I had to start a systemic advocacy group and tackle this issue at a parliamentary level. I shouldn't have to do that.
So, I reach out to Minister Ellery today as a mother, as a human being, as a parent of neurodivergent children and as someone who is trying their very best to be an ally to the community of neurodivergent and neurodivergent advocates who are giving themselves so freely to tray and create a safer, better world for children like mine. Minister Ellery, I'm telling you and I'm BEGGING you to please believe me.
Schools are not safe.
We don't want you and Mr McGowan to invest millions in developing further specialised autism programmes that are a mask for continued practices of ABA and an ongoing commitment to segregated learning. We don't want that. It's not ethical.
Engage with and listen to people with lived experience. Co-design and collaborate with autistic and neurodivergent people, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, people from the LGBTQIA+ community and people from culturally diverse backgrounds. Collaborate meaningfully and respectfully with all the representatives planning and implementing strategies that show you want to do better, and will not stop until schools are safe.
Stop throwing money at segregating and isolating disabled people. Invest in universal design for learning and other inclusive and neurodiversity affirming practices in schools. Stop investing in internal complaints and appeals - it's biased. It's not fair. Collect and record data around ways that you are implementing inclusive practices instead and publish it!
Most of all, hold yourselves accountable, acknowledge your mistakes and be transparent.
Schools are not safe. Please fix that!