By Catia Malaquias
In 2015 national and international outcry, an ACT governmental inquiry, a federal Senate inquiry and a complaint to the United Nations followed the discovery that an ACT primary school had commissioned and used a blue powder-coated steel cage to confine a student with disability.
But that all counted for little – today the story was that the chosen confinement method for a student with autism in a public Victorian primary school was apparently a more organically friendly 2m x 2m plywood “room” with only a small “peep-hole”.
One would have expected that after the ACT incident in 2015 that all such “seclusion” facilities on school asset inventories would have been promptly sold on Ebay or Gumtree for less unacceptable uses or otherwise decommissioned – but maybe not.
How such “facilities” have been created or allowed to subsist is hard to fathom – but the horror story that was the Oakden Mental Health Facility provides a clue – tolerance and concealment of abuse depends upon a “rotten” culture that thinks it knows better. That was true of an aged care facility. It can be equally true of a school or even a government department.
What happened to the blue steel cage in the ACT, the “coffin-like” box at the Aspect day care center or the plywood “room” in Victoria isn’t known. I think there is a place for them – hopefully in our history – in an Australian education museum – a reminder of what we once did.
Sadly, Senator Pauline Hanson’s recent insensitive and ill-informed comments that students with disability should be “cared for” in “special” segregated places – comments against the weight of research evidence and comments that the federal Government failed to condemn with any promptness or passion – remind us that a great deal will need to change before we can relegate these practices to some dark and distant past that bears testament to how far we have come in ensuring that every Australian child is safe in our schools and is supported to realise that most basic of rights that most of us take for granted – the universal right to education.
In the meantime, the United Nations has added its voice calling for a Royal Commission into institutional violence and abuse against people with disability – seclusion and restraint of students with disability in educational settings is both physical and psychological institutional violence.
The saying “you reap what you sow” is apt. The reality is that an education system resistant to change and set upon imposing its norms on any student requiring understanding, support and accommodations will damage the student – the student who has been harmed and has lost trust, in turn becomes harder to understand, support and accommodate. The sooner the system changes and responds to what is required – to discharging its legal, human and moral obligation to include and support students with disability – the sooner the focus and outcomes will be educational for all.
[Cover photo © Daan Huttinga]
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