By: Simon Collins
The Ministry of Education has agreed to override zoning rules to help a child into a new school because he was bullied at his previous school, in what appears to be a breakthrough for other bullied children.
The student’s parents say their son, who is now 12, was bullied “almost daily” at Pakuranga Intermediate.
They pulled him out of the school after he was told by other children to “go and kill himself”, and found another school that was willing to take him – but only if the ministry directed it to do so because the family is outside that other school’s zone.
The ministry’s Auckland staff refused to direct the other school to enrol him because they said the case did not have the required “exceptional circumstances”.
However in response to Herald questions to the ministry head office in Wellington, acting deputy secretary of education Susan Howan said: “We believe in this case it is in the student’s interests to change schools.”
The student’s parents, Andrew and Tracey Hill, said the ministry had now gone back to the school that was willing to take the boy saying they had “the new paperwork” in place.
Youthlaw senior solicitor Jennifer Walsh said the case was unusual because the ministry did not usually direct schools to accept students unless they had been excluded from other schools.
“We’ve had quite a few cases that have dealt with this, where parents have wanted to utilise this section, and I can’t think of a single case where it’s been successful,” she said.
The Pakuranga boy has been diagnosed by a paediatrician as having “mild to moderate” autism. He started school with the language level of a 2-year-old and his parents were told that he would never lead a normal life.
But the Hills were determined to prove the experts wrong, and their son’s primary school, Pakuranga Heights, provided a teacher aide and other support which enabled him to almost catch up academically.
“He did have a really good support system at primary. They were so good with him,” his mum said.
But when he went to Pakuranga Intermediate last year, he was “subjected to almost daily bullying”, she said.
Girls “kicked him around like a soccer ball”, a teacher “made fun of him”, children called him a “retard”.
He was pushed into a wall, scratched and slapped, jabbed in the ribs, had food shoved down his clothes, had his glasses smashed, and was dragged by his feet across a playing field and trapped in a net, needing an adult to rescue him.
“A week later he came to me and asked if he should just kill himself,” Tracey Hill said. “He told me that the kids at school were telling him that’s what he should do.”
In an email to the ministry asking for help, the Hills wrote: “Repeated complaints to the school have not, and will not, change the culture of this school.”
Tracey Hill, a teacher aide herself in another school, knew about a clause in the Education Act, Section 11P, empowering the ministry to direct a school to enrol an out-of-zone student in exceptional circumstances. The family applied for it, but were initially turned down.
Howan said the ministry’s Auckland region issued eight directions under this clause last year, six in 2016, seven in 2015 and four in 2014.
Ministry guidelines say that parents seeking a directive must provide “specialist medical or psychological or other expert opinion”, and that the ministry will consult with a school board before directing a board to enrol any student.
Walsh said the section was not targeted at addressing educational access for disabled or bullied students.
“Families have reported to us that ministry has said, ‘Even if we force it, the school is quite adamant and the student is not going to be welcome,'” she said.
“As a consequence, if it’s a bullying issue, they are more inclined to say we can deal with it in the school where it’s arisen.”
However Howan’s response to the Herald indicates that the ministry will now help the boy into another school, although she said a direction under section 11P was only one option.
“We take the issue of bullying extremely seriously and were very concerned to hear of the experiences of this boy that his parents reported,” she said.
“It is the responsibility of school boards to provide a safe learning environment for all students. We will be following up with the board and principal of Pakuranga Intermediate.”
Pakuranga Intermediate principal Stephen Johnston said in a written statement that the school “worked with the family and child to support his transition into intermediate schooling and throughout the past year”.
The school, senior ministry advisors and the “In this time, the school, Ministry of Education senior advisers and the Resource Teachers of Learning and Behaviour service had worked hard to support the child’s needs, he said.
“We reiterate with the family, as we do with our school community, that the safety of our students remains a school priority.
“We recognise that bullying occurs in every NZ school. Our ongoing school behaviour and wellbeing procedures incorporate Ministry of Education endorsed strategies.
“These include ongoing access to ministry literature resources, Positive Behaviour 4 Learning (PB4L) and Restorative Practices (RP). Recently, teachers have completed the ministry-led training of Understanding Behaviour and Responding Safely (UBRS).
“These ministry initiatives will continue to support the school’s management of student safety and wellbeing.”
Source: NZ Herald