Shame on Green Bay High School

I have been following the case of Green Bay High School excluding a student who has Aspergers and other special needs, a case that the school lost in the High Court. The school lost that case for very convincing reasons. Despite the strong and clear judgement from the High Court that the school failed the student in a number of ways and should not have excluded him, Green Bay High School is seeking leave to have the case taken to the Court of Appeal.

Bu Michael Kappel, via Flickr

When I first heard about the appeal I went from incredulous to outraged, and the more I read about the school’s perspective and actions on the matter, the more annoyed I became. This is not just a case of a school under-supporting and misunderstanding the supports made available to a student in their care, not just a case of a school that performed inadequate investigations into an incident that they used as a basis for excluding a child; more than that, this is a case – in my eyes – of a school that is willing to spend money, time, effort on whatever it takes to exclude a child rather than put the same money, time and effort into including them.

This is clearly a case where inclusion is possible, strategies for successful inclusion had been shared with the school but not implemented when needed, strategies for successful inclusion had worked at other schools too; this is not an impossible child who can’t be managed, rather this is a school that is failing in its own management of students.

I’m basing my views here on every type of public report I can get my hands on, but most of all on the court’s own decision which does a comprehensive job of outlining the circumstances that lead up to the incident. I found the decision to be rather damning of the school, and with good reason. The school was slow to implement support, took away some supports that had been put in place, and was not utilising strategies suggested expressly by specialists, yet argued in the court case that the Ministry of Education was at fault for failing to provide adequate support. The school was meant to perform a thorough investigation into the incident that lead to exclusion, but didn’t even hear from the mother at the Board of Trustees meeting on the matter, and the court considered that what the mother had wanted to share with them was important and relevant. Furthermore the principal was ill-informed, thinking an IEP was in place in order to help the student, without realising the IEP had been focused on removing supports. (The judge also raises the question of whether the incident was even severe enough to qualify as gross misconduct, though they didn’t feel the need to ultimately express an opinion on that point due to their previous findings.)

And so Green Bay High School was meant to start taking steps to allow the child to return. It did not. It has not. The case’s outcome meant the student was still enrolled at and entitled to attend class. A month has passed since that first decision, and according to the family and their lawyers the school has not engaged with them to follow through on the court’s ruling. Instead we hear the school is going to now appeal the case. On what grounds, I don’t know and can’t see yet, but I suspect they’re going to claim the child is some sort of uncontrollable demon based on a set of quotes in this news piece:

“We’re dealing with someone who goes from calm to angry, to very angry, to angry and aggressive, in a millisecond – and that’s a really hard thing for staff to deal with,” [the Board Chairman] said. “We have to put a huge priority and importance on the other students. They have to be safe and the teachers have to be safe.”

Even if that description of the child is entirely accurate (and frankly it sounds like a rather obvious and simplistic exaggeration to me), I feel like they’ve still missed the point: the student needs support, appropriate support, and with appropriate support the student can and has flourished in the past. It sounds to me like the school has given up, or doesn’t want to try, or thinks it shouldn’t have to try. If we as parents of special needs children took the same stance a the school seems to, all our kids would end up in institutions, separate from the rest of society because it was just too hard or we weren’t willing to try. But we fight, and we learn, and we don’t give up, and we expect schools to do the same, rather than seek to just get these kids out of sight out of mind.

If Green Bay High School really wants to keep its staff and students safe, it should be willing to do whatever it can to help this student to manage his own behaviours, with the calming and coping strategies suggested by specialists. If they are unwilling to do that, they are doing a disservice to the entire school population, not just this single child; a school that is unwilling to learn and adapt and fight for the well-being of all its students, is not one I would ever send my own child to, with special needs or otherwise. It is the opposite of modern inclusive education; it is old-school exclusion based on difference, on disability in this case. It is hurtful, harmful, and threatening to families like mine whose children just need a little understanding so they can get the education every other child gets in this country.

But really, who am I to say the school should be ashamed? I don’t attend or run the school, I didn’t sit through the court case, and I don’t pretend that I have. I leave you to make up your own mind, draw your own conclusions based on the facts presented by all sides. The news stories take their various leanings – to such a degree that sometimes you even wonder if they’re talking about the same student and situation – but the court case was a search for truth and justice, and presented agreed-upon facts, used objective evidence, and applied the relevant law; if you want a real overview of what sort of child and school this case is all about, please take the time to read it for yourself.

I’ll give the school this much: A mind that can be changed. I will see what case they make for the appeal, I will see how they think the judge got it wrong, and I want to see whether the grounds are considered strong enough to grant the appeal, and then of course I will read any appeal case too. I will let the facts change my mind about the school and the way it is run, because I would like to be wrong, I would like this school to have actually tried its best and genuinely acted in the best interests of all students, and not simply put this poor boy’s future and education in the too-hard basket. And if I am wrong, I will come back to this post and apologise and set the record straight, with the same willingness to learn and be corrected that the school should be showing its community; a community that does not and should not exclude those with special needs.

But on what I know so far, the school should be ashamed, and should be examining its own short-comings, rather than continuing to publicly defame a 14 year-old boy in the media as they drag the family back into court instead of getting on with educating him.

***

To access the pdf of the High Court decision from February 2014, click the first search result that comes up through this link. If anyone else has a more direct way to share the file, please let me know.

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10 Responses to Shame on Green Bay High School

  1. Apathy Jack says:

    “We’re dealing with someone who goes from calm to angry, to very angry, to angry and aggressive, in a millisecond”

    That’s a reasonable thing for the school to say. Which is to say that it should have been said by the school’s SENCO in a meeting with this kid’s teachers at the beginning of the year – the type we all have whenever we have kids with special needs in our class – where-after the teachers should have then got on with their jobs. I have four students in my classes this year deemed as being high risk for factors serious enough to require meetings – three of whom the school is helping me deal with (and one they’re hindering me over, but 75% is a decent average…).

    Schools have to deal with all students. That’s why we exist.

    • Well said Apathy Jack, and thank you for your care and dedication to your students, please believe me when I say the parents value it more than they can perhaps ever tell you. We know when our child has found a good teacher who cares and accepts the children in the class, it’s not taken for granted (though in an ideal world, I guess it should be). Thanks for commenting.

  2. Elizabeth says:

    This reminds me of something one of my son’s teachers said years ago (which brought out the fighter in me): “We have to consider the issue of equity. Your son needs more time than the other students in the class and that is not fair to the other students.”

    To which I responded: “What is fair to the other students is irrelevant. My son has special needs. That’s why he has an IEP. That is why we are here. What the other students need does not enter in my evaluation whatsoever.”

    What is fair for one child looks very different for another child, and must be evaluated based on the individual needs of each child. To do less is irresponsible, lazy, and profoundly unprofessional.

  3. Deidre says:

    I have searched and yet to find any news article that details the violence they speak of. What has this child done? If he’s physically attacking others in the school then I understand the need to remove that. Violence has no place in a school system, but no where in the 4 articles I found does it state any kind of violence. Just anger over a skateboard, which is not the same thing.

    The thing that keeps coming into my mind is a recent theory on autism being a brain evolution. Higher intelligence trapped in a low intelligence brain. With in those confines, expelling any student on the spectrum from a place of education begins to feel truly asinine. Although that does beg the argument that these children should be schooled at home to ensure a greater education. But not all parents have the means or opportunity for at home education. Which is why public schools must have adequate support for all the individual needs of children. A child with an unhealthy home life could just as easily exhibit signs of anger and animosity.

    Autism is a subject that has become dear to me. My experiences have ranged from those that can manage only screams and those who show little to no evidence of Autism. The one thing they all have in common, at some point a single moment of incredible awe will occur. I truly believe that all human beings have something to offer. How can a place for children exclude any child from learning? I’m not even sure I feel violence is a good enough reason, it might be a reason to remove and place elsewhere, but not to exclude.

    Thank you for this post.

    • Thanks for your thoughtful comment Deidre.

      For what it’s worth, I can expand on the violence issue with this specific child. There was apparently a historical incident where the child got in an altercation with another student, and there is also the perception that “violence” was involved by the child trying to shut the door to stop the teacher following him into a building where he had been told to go during the skateboard incident. From what I understand, the potential for violence from this child is something that can be managed by using the strategies suggested by the specialist in the child’s life, a strategy that was not employed during the skateboard incident.

      I do think the threat or potential for violence from a student – from any student – is a serious matter. But I also think it is absolutely vital to look into why the violence has occurred and what can be done about it; whether the violence is intentional, a form of bullying, accidental, incidental, deliberately provoked – all these factors are potentially relevant and dealing with an incident of violence needs careful consideration and responses. And whether the appropriate response is exclusion or standing them down for a few days or bringing in more support, is just as vital a line of inquiry. It appears that the school failed to enter into an adequate investigation or appropriate response in this instance, and I think that says more about the school being the problem than the child.

      The issue of how to deal with violence in schools is an important one, thank you for raising it and giving me the chance to discuss it further in the comments.

      • Deidre says:

        I had forgotten about your other post detailing how school inquiries work. I’m in the States and we have a Zero Tolerance policy in most schools for violence. We also have random school shootings, so I could go either way.

        The bottom line, in my opinion, is if a government is going to force education then they must accept a certain amount of responsibility in caring for children in all circumstances. Not just the ones who fit into a certain mold. That’s not how it is handled here and sounds like at least this school does not either.

        Thank you for clearing that up.

  4. Kerry says:

    Having spent several years advocating for children with special needs in Ontario, Canada, this scenario is all too familiar. Ultimately the student or their parents are always blamed, even when staff ignore the advice of autism experts and the parents — who are often the most knowledgable with respect to the child concerned. I only hope that the courts in NZ are more enlightened and don’t believe everything the school tells them. It’s good to see a website that keeps readers informed about these issues — well done.

    There are excellent psychologists in NZ who have had years of postgraduate training in ABA (behavioural therapy). These people need to be working in schools and training teachers and teacher’s aides. The hard work of good teachers and parents should not be undermined by those who think they know everything just because they have a teaching certificate.

  5. Sheogorath says:

    Green Bay High School said: We’re dealing with someone who goes from calm to angry, to very angry, to angry and aggressive, in a millisecond.
    Which begs the wquestion: what have you been doing to this child in the previous months to make them be like that? It’s my experience that a child who is able to go to school is not a child known to be violent.

  6. Pingback: Court clash between Green Bay High School and student with Aspergers | aspergers on toast

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