The Forced Segregation Model for Children with Disabilities

(Canberra, Australia) Canberra, federal capital of the Commonwealth of Australia, occupies part of the Australian Capital Territory (ACT), in southeastern Australia. The ACT has developed a “segregation” model for students with disabilities. There are mainstream public schools and “specialist” schools designed exclusively for students with disabilities.

Canberra families and children with a disability are being offered a “false choice” between mainstream and specialist schools because of resourcing discrepancies, an ACT Assembly inquiry into education and inclusion has heard. Advocacy for Inclusion’s policy head Stacy Rheese said the ACT’s current regime did not give parents a true choice because support within mainstream schools was not available for their children. Additionally, Schools were coercing parents by telling them their schools aren’t adequately equipped to handle children with disabilities, with some quoting “their schools would not be a welcoming environment.” “Parents are choosing segregated schools because they feel like their child will not be welcomed or supported [at a mainstream school].” At mainstream schools Stacy Rheese said there were instances where children were being separated, and equipment or infrastructure was being used to seclude or isolate them from others.

ACT Council of Social Service’s (ACTCOSS) policy manager Craig Wallace said there could be a perception from parents that their child with a disability would be bullied or abused at mainstream schools, but the evidence showed that students were no safer at segregated schools. “Children with a disability are not safer in segregated environments either in terms of violence, sexual abuse or other forms of safety,” he said.

There are two specialist primary schools and two specialist high schools for children with disabilities in the ACT. But while some schools are classified as mainstream, they engage in segregation under another name, Mr Wallace said. This might include placing students with disabilities in separate learning environments without the same opportunities as other students. This is equally detrimental to the student, Mr Wallace said. “There is minimal evidence to suggest that the [segregation] model is successful,” he said.

“Students with a disability deserve to be wholly included physically, socially and academically within mainstream schools in the ACT. The evidence shows that children with a disability educated in general education environments outperform their peers who have been educated in segregated settings. “For that to happen, there needs to be a focus on upgrading school classrooms, playgrounds, toilets, ingress and egress so they meet standards of disability access.” More of this story here.