There is a story and radio interview out today about a local school – that goes unnamed – where disabled students are treated awfully and actively discouraged from enrolling. The school is a public school, and for some people in the region, the only public school for which they are zoned to attend. The fact that the school goes unnamed, was one I initially sympathised with – there are often many sides to a story, and one poor experience can over-shadow a wealth of far more successful ones. However, the more I reflected on the matter, and the more of the story that I came to understand, I realised how deeply misplaced that sympathy was.
There is a clear and uncontested problem in this country with holding schools accountable for the ways – both subtle and outrageously unsubtle – that they exclude and discourage disabled students. Part of the problem with holding these schools accountable is apparently proving that the school has acted in this way – ie have discriminated against the disabled. However, as you’ll find in the piece I’ve linked to at the outset of this post, that is a problem with the system itself – the system of education reviews here appears to fall short of the robustness, insight, or power necessary to provide that proof. Without that official accountability, it becomes particularly important that the rest of the public – those who are trying to choose a school for their children, and those who can in other ways hold the school publically accountable for its horrendous and backwards treatment of our kids – get to know the name of the school involved in such behaviour.
It is no small decision when we choose a school for our children. We invest time and money in transitions, uniforms, relationship building, we may even choose to move house into or away from an area because we’re seeking what we think is a good school. In making that decision, we should also have the right to know whether the school we are choosing even wants us there, or whether it will dedicate itself to our kids (and us) feeling unwanted until we reach the point of leaving, making room for the next victim on their roll.
Anonymity in the current educational climate, only helps the school to remain the way it is, and helps line up families unknowing of what sort of school environment they are exposing their child to. This goes for families of non-disabled children too – they too should be rejecting and fighting against the sort of school where discrimination is par for the course, where some children are deemed “too hard” to bother with, where school personnel and boards think they are above the law and feel they don’t have to respect basic rights to education.
I think too that the mere fact there are multiple good or successful stories coming out of a school, cannot and should not be treated as a reason to ignore or downplay the utter failures that occur. It is easy to look after many families in schools – the ones where families are intact, where children are particularly intelligent and meet milestones with little effort, where financial wealth means children are well-fed, clothed, and can attend class trips, etc – it is a lot more challenging and a better mark of the school, as to how well it deals with the children and families who don’t meet these markers. To put it another way, if 99% of your students are not very disabled, and 1% are, is it really a valid defence to the complaints made by the 1% to say “but the school has lots of success stories from the 99%”? Each serious complaint of misconduct by a school, deserves to be heard and dealt with – publically if need be – especially considering the lack of accountability.
Furthermore, our public schools, and an ever increasing number of our private schools, take tax payer money to provide education to the New Zealand public. Where they have failed to provide that service because of discrimination or abuse of our disabled children, we have a right to know about it. That’s our money they are choosing to misspend (or not spend at all) on our children, forcing us to put our children through multiple school or home address changes that we should never have had to go through.
We should know about which schools are behaving in this way. We should demand answers. We should demand accountability. If the existing system won’t give us that accountability – if they’ll just keep taking our money, our time, our children’s happiness because no one is making them face their disgraceful behaviour as an educational institution – then we stand up and speak out ourselves.
The time for the silent painful shuffling of our kids from one discriminating school to the next, needs to be over.