Advocates divided over the return of students with disability to the classroom | PBA

July 15, 2020
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There are concerns children with disability will not have access to appropriate education supports         

Disability advocates are concerned by the Victorian government’s plan to allow students with disability to return to school, with fears this will put vulnerable children in greater danger of contracting COVID-19.

The Victorian government has announced that students from Prep to Year 10 at government schools in metropolitan Melbourne and the Mitchell Shire will learn from home from 20 July until at least 19 August.

But children whose parents cannot work from home, vulnerable children and children with a disability have been offered onsite supervision at schools, while government specialist schools will also resume face-to-face learning from 13 July.

El Gibbs, the director of media and communications at People with Disability Australia, told Pro Bono News the organisation was concerned that students with disability were being asked to return to school, when non-disabled students were being encouraged to learn from home. 

“This is not acceptable, and we are extremely concerned that this approach treats children and young people with disability differently and will put them in greater danger, especially when many are already at high risk of getting COVID-19,” Gibbs said.

“Students with disability must be able to access appropriate education supports to ensure they can stay safe and learn from home, along with other non-disabled students.”

Autism peak body Amaze and the Association for Children with a Disability (ACD) were more welcoming of the new measures – which contrast greatly with the remote and distance learning directive implemented last term. 

Parents with students with disability spoke out earlier this year about the lack of government support when homeschooling their children. 

Amaze CEO Fiona Sharkie said she was pleased the Victorian government was now providing the option for any student with disability to attend school in person.

“We commend the Victorian government for listening to students with disabilities and their families about the significant challenges they faced in term two,” Sharkie said.

“COVID-19 magnified pre-existing issues in education. Students with disability and their families were disproportionately impacted.

“We appreciate the Victorian government’s commitment to better address the needs of students with disability and special needs in this second phase of school disruptions.”

ACD CEO Karen Dimmock agreed, but added that students with disability who did not return to school must be given support to learn from home.

She said for those with National Disability Insurance Scheme plans, accessing in-home support could make a real difference.

“It is important that all students with disability and special needs – regardless of whether learning at school or from home – have access to tailored curriculum and personalised support,” Dimmock said. 

“It is also critical that individual learning plans be updated to reflect the current context and that student support groups continue to meet.” 

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