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ACT Government finally responds to school cage incident

Marcus Paul 8 September 2015 67

stock-school-entrance

It’s been 165 days since the ACT Government discovered a cage was built in one of its schools for a 10-year-old student with autism.

We found out today that the school’s principal has been sacked, and will no longer be able to work at any ACT Government school. The inquiry, overseen at arm’s length from Minister Joy Burch’s office, found the principal was solely responsible for the incident.

Minister Burch told my radio program she felt physically ill after learning of the “cage-like structure”. She says the decision to erect such a thing was made without input, consultation or approval from the school or the directorate.

She also says the structure was commissioned by the school, under the instruction of the principal, and constructed by an external builder. Although reluctant to name it as a cage, the ACT Government has today confirmed it was constructed of pool fencing and had a roof.

It’s understood the structure was designed as a space for a student to calm down. It was also used when the student needed a quiet space.

So why was such a structure constructed in the first place? Well, according to the minister, the child was believed to have been physically abusive towards his teacher and other students. Was the cage was constructed for his explicit use? Unfortunately, yes.

This will not be the end of the issue, with another inquiry into the broader issue of special needs teaching in the ACT still underway.

Many parents with autistic children have contacted me. They are dismayed and angered by the current system, which they claim does not place enough emphasis on support services for children with special needs.

It is hoped this further inquiry will address the many concerns which remain outstanding. The ACT Human Rights Commission will no doubt strongly monitor the situation.

What is clear however, is that the ACT Education Directorate must now also go on notice. 165 days is simply too long to wait for today’s outcome. We were told by the minister that the initial inquiry would be handed down within weeks – and it seemed to take media pressure to finally end up with a result.

Whilst I appreciate that Education Director-General Diane Joseph needed some time to work through the issue, this has taken far too long. Too long and too much distress for the child’s family, and too long for the parents of other children here in Canberra with special needs.

Marcus Paul is the host of Canberra Live 3pm weekdays on 2CC.


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ACT Government finally responds to school cage incident
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ungruntled 10:11 am 09 Oct 15

I did find this whole situation very concerning, as do many people, but it is also necessary to remember and consider, how this came about.

It started quite a while ago, when people with special needs were moved out of special institutions and into the community. This was, in itself, a good thing. However, the money that had been in the institutions did not follow the people into the community.

That was a political slight of hand. The funds went in to general coffers.

Now, teachers who may not have the skills & training and do not have the time and other resources to manage these children’s behaviour & to teach them according to their needs, get blamed for the resaults of what was surely a forseeable situation, when that much funding is removed from these people.
This mainstreaming without adequate resourcing & training affects the learning outcomes of everyone in the classroom (those with specific learing or behavioural difficulties and every other child) and everyone’s general stress levels – staff, students & parents.

Not only has this affected the area of education, but massively affected the provision of mental health services & general health services as seen in the number of very ill people, who need specialised care, presenting in our A&E’s.

We really need to go back to basics to deal with this situation and not focus on the Minister and the poor benighted principal, who are desperately trying to deal with the symptoms of a problem that is not of their making, and over which they have very little if any control.

VYBerlinaV8_is_back 7:21 pm 16 Sep 15

aussie2 said :

Great article Marcus-it just shows the sort of spin Minister Burch and her cronies are capable of. That they could sack that Principal is out of control. It is not the Principal’s problem. So many workplaces have to do workarounds because the money is not there to do what is required. I lay this TOTALLY in the Barr Government’s lap. Start reallocating your public funds so that these kids get a decent education. Hang the bleeding tram! Our kids future is at stake here. C’mon Canberra-WAKE UP!

It’s hard to see how spending the best part of a billion dollars to do a subset of something the buses already do is value when we have underresourced schools and issues in basic service delivery (e.g. health).

bigred 6:26 pm 16 Sep 15

Big_Ed said :

In the latest addition to this saga, Ms Burch said “Clearly the principal alone made the decision and there were others within that school – and this remains a very sad point for me – that did not respond accordingly. That is a failure of their behaviour and they will be dealt with.”

Well, Joy Burch knows very well the answer to this – if a teacher reports on a principal then they can kiss their career goodbye. And those Directorate officials who “failed to stop the the construction” are of the same breed who mob good honest teachers and ram them out of the system on behalf of the far too numerous low-functioning school executives in the Directorate. People with passions for their careers and egos and not Teaching.

I’m glad that those teachers who have suffered at the hands of these in the past can now pick up a CT and enjoy their coffee and a hearty slice of validation.

You raise good points. I will suggest to anyone who knows more about this and cares about transparency should have a read of the public interest disclosure laws and then write to the auditor-general, not the Education directorate. This is because the auditor-general has published some good process and is also at arms length.

And if you do not care, just bleat here!

Big_Ed 9:06 pm 15 Sep 15

In the latest addition to this saga, Ms Burch said “Clearly the principal alone made the decision and there were others within that school – and this remains a very sad point for me – that did not respond accordingly. That is a failure of their behaviour and they will be dealt with.”

Well, Joy Burch knows very well the answer to this – if a teacher reports on a principal then they can kiss their career goodbye. And those Directorate officials who “failed to stop the the construction” are of the same breed who mob good honest teachers and ram them out of the system on behalf of the far too numerous low-functioning school executives in the Directorate. People with passions for their careers and egos and not Teaching.

I’m glad that those teachers who have suffered at the hands of these in the past can now pick up a CT and enjoy their coffee and a hearty slice of validation.

aussie2 3:40 pm 12 Sep 15

Great article Marcus-it just shows the sort of spin Minister Burch and her cronies are capable of. That they could sack that Principal is out of control. It is not the Principal’s problem. So many workplaces have to do workarounds because the money is not there to do what is required. I lay this TOTALLY in the Barr Government’s lap. Start reallocating your public funds so that these kids get a decent education. Hang the bleeding tram! Our kids future is at stake here. C’mon Canberra-WAKE UP!

london 2:43 pm 12 Sep 15

No one suggests that the parents are failures if they have a child with autism but they have to accept responsibility for finding a way of helping the child instead of expecting others to do this. A teacher goes to school to educate and children go to learn. Neither should be placed in danger while they are there. Very often parents can’t control their child yet they expect a teacher to do so with twenty odd other students to manage. This incident should not have happened but unfortunately it did. I wonder how much assistance was offered this school? I’m sure Ghettosmurf87 would not like to be abused and assaulted in his workplace.

london 11:07 am 12 Sep 15

No one is suggesting it is failure of parents if child is autistic Ghettosmurf87 but it is their responsibility to find the help their child needs not expect everyone else to do it. If the child had help all day I’m sure it would not have happened but this is not available in mainstream schools. No teacher or child should have to be afraid of the extreme behaviour of others. I’m sure if you went to work and was physically assaulted or constantly waiting for it to occur you wouldn’t hang around. Teachers go to school to educate and children go to learn . It should be a happy and pleasant experience, free from bullies and fear. Unfortunately this is not the case.

Big_Ed 11:28 pm 11 Sep 15

I have a few points to make on this. Firstly, ACT schools are required to have an action plan to deal with aggressive students. When a student has special needs the school is required to have an action plan for that student developed in consultation with the parents, learning support team and a host of others (often with input from department officials) – so go figure why we have had to wait 165 days, significant brass gave input or signed off on this dumb caper and have been desperately trying to cover their behinds since.

Why because putting a child in a cage is child abuse and possibly unlawful imprisonment.

The CT has reported Directorate staff may be sanctioned over the matter after becoming aware of the cage. Well let’s not kid ourselves, directorate staff would have been contacted prior to the construction by the principal for advice. She may have had poor judgement but she’s not a complete moron. Someone else has ticked it off.

Which brings me to, what action is to be taken against the School Network Leader (SNL)? This person is akin to the principal’s direct supervisor. Did the SNL know about the cage prior to the CT? What advice did the SNL give to the prinipal prior to the construction? Unless we are meant to also believe in unicorns, if the principal’s head rolled then the SNL’s head should roll too.

Sadly this saga indicates that within the Directorate there are still quite a few very low functioning people in very high positions of responsibility. What concerns me is how they got there and how to stop the rot.

Ghettosmurf87 9:06 am 11 Sep 15

HenryBG said :

If parents want to dump their failures on the public education system, a cage is, in at least one instance, a good place to keep them.

Why in the world is the behaviour of a child who has a mental disorder the failings of the parent? There is no suggestion in this story whatsoever that the child was a delinquent just out to cause trouble. There are plenty of mechanisms for dealing with that. It seems pretty clear that the child had a condition that rendered them a danger at times. That is not the parents fault, unless you suggest they should have controlled how the genetics of the child was constructed???? To blame the parents and call them failures in this situation is about the equivalent of blaming a parent for their child being born deaf or mute or with down syndrome.

There is no excuse for treating children like animals or criminals, which is what placing them in a cage is doing. Especially when their behaviour is not within their own control.

HenryBG 11:22 pm 10 Sep 15

Nilrem said :

Of course, another way to comply with your WHS obligations is not to have the kid in the classroom in the first place. Clearly someone in the Directorate dropped the ball.

I’ve had umpteen comments along this line sanitized.

Ultimately, society expects taxpayers’ money to be spent reasonably.

If parents want to dump their failures on the public education system, a cage is, in at least one instance, a good place to keep them.

Nilrem 8:22 pm 10 Sep 15

Belco77 said :

Clearly this was not the best way to deal with child who has special needs however under the new workplace health and safety laws that principal (an officer) is under a legal obligation to protect the teacher (employee) from harm . If the principal knew that the teacher was in danger of bodily harm from this child , then the principal risks jail time if the principal doesn’t do everything reasonably possible to prevent that harm .

Of course, another way to comply with your WHS obligations is not to have the kid in the classroom in the first place. Clearly someone in the Directorate dropped the ball.

Jordania 7:46 pm 10 Sep 15

Umm, am not a parent and don’t know much about ACT schools, schooling and/or education policy but why is a child who has the potential to cause harm to others (or him/herself) being educated in a mainstream school? I dare say someone will respond that kids with special needs should be allowed to be educated with others for no doubt very good reasons – socialisation, good educational outcomes etc – with which I would agree, up to a point, depending on the ‘special need’, the degree of disablement, the potential for good for the child; all of which, though, surely would have to be balanced against any potential for harm. But I’m sure that if I were to have children I would be very loath to have them attending a school where there was a potential for violence, disturbance and harm because of the presence of a child whose behaviour was so disturbed. I also think that the carers of the child involved in this incident bear as much responsibility as the principal; they must know/have known about their child’s potential to cause problems and should have been monitoring the situation accordingly. Were the parents/carers aware of the ‘cage’ and the purpose to which it was put? If they weren’t, they can’t have been keeping too close an eye on what went on at the school. If they were then the principal would seem to have been dealt with very harshly. Further, what would have been the liability of the principal, the education department and the child’s parents if serious injury or harm were to have been caused by the child to other pupils or to staff?

Belco77 7:01 pm 10 Sep 15

Clearly this was not the best way to deal with child who has special needs however under the new workplace health and safety laws that principal (an officer) is under a legal obligation to protect the teacher (employee) from harm . If the principal knew that the teacher was in danger of bodily harm from this child , then the principal risks jail time if the principal doesn’t do everything reasonably possible to prevent that harm .

Rustygear 6:06 pm 10 Sep 15

Nilrem said :

Have we got our policy settings rights when one sick child can disrupt the whole class regularly? Should such a child be in the mainstream education system?

Yup, that’s right. The PC brigade are once again working themselves into a lather as to why one person’s behaviour should hold everyone else to ransom. What about all the other kids’ right to an education and a safe environment? Whether this kids’ behaviour was due to autism, personality, or a combination of factors, why should he not be restrained if he is a menace and there is no specialist intervention? This is all bizarre and stupid.

The principal provided a practical solution in the interests of the majority. If the education head bureaucrats want a different solution, then they should provide the special care required (they might even get a free 5-star two-week holiday to Europe to ‘study’ a solution). Re-instate the principal, and send the boy off to wherever his behaviour can be dealt with or accommodated or creatively enabled or whatever the PC phrase is for that.

MERC600 6:05 pm 10 Sep 15

Ghettosmurf87 said :

london said :

I still don’t believe it was a cage.

http://www.canberratimes.com.au/comment/cage-for-autistic-child-at-canberra-school-a-shocking-wakeup-call-20150909-gjictu.html

looks quite cage like to me…

One persons cage is another persons refuge..possibly

HiddenDragon 5:58 pm 10 Sep 15

Masquara said :

HiddenDragon said :

Nilrem said :

“The inquiry, overseen at arm’s length from Minister Joy Burch’s office, found the principal was solely responsible for the incident.

Minister Burch told my radio program she felt physically ill after learning of the “cage-like structure”. She says the decision to erect such a thing was made without input, consultation or approval from the school or the directorate.

Errr, so the Principal was running the school like some kind of rogue dictatorship? He/She consulted no-one else in the School? They didn’t provide any input or feedback to the Principal? Really? So someone has been executed and now everything is dandy? Please explain.

Yes – the official response, so far, looks like the standard “bad apple” strategy.

A lifelong ban from teaching in public schools is just a ridiculous price for this principal to pay. What price has Joy Burch paid for the many mistakes she has made that resulted in damage to vulnerable children?

Just to be clear, I’m not suggesting the principal is a “bad apple”, rather that this case has been handled in an all-too-common fashion – which is to avoid, so far as possible, acknowledging broader issues and more widespread responsibility for the circumstances in question, and then pin responsibility on one, or a very small number of, individual(s) – in the hope that the public and the media will be satisfied that “something has been done” and move on.

Nilrem 5:06 pm 10 Sep 15

gazket said :

Can Joy Burch ever tell the truth. She is making like nothing happened and lets quickly forget about it..

Very bad minister from a very bad government. The teacher or principle should never had to resort to something like this. Where was their support to deal with such a child.

Strangely not one out cryabout the cage from the lefty social media freaks who now run our governments.

What are the bureaucrats doing besides getting a healthy pay check to cut back public services???
It seems there is no money for anything but feel good electricity, trams and refugees, it’s a joke.

You lost me by going all political. I’m a leftie. I think Burch should resign. Now.

gazket 4:46 pm 10 Sep 15

Can Joy Burch ever tell the truth. She is making like nothing happened and lets quickly forget about it..

Very bad minister from a very bad government. The teacher or principle should never had to resort to something like this. Where was their support to deal with such a child.

Strangely not one out cryabout the cage from the lefty social media freaks who now run our governments.

What are the bureaucrats doing besides getting a healthy pay check to cut back public services???
It seems there is no money for anything but feel good electricity, trams and refugees, it’s a joke.

Alexandra Craig 4:34 pm 10 Sep 15

tim_c said :

“the child was believed to have been physically abusive towards his teacher and other students.”

While not suggesting a cage in this case is appropriate, I’d like to know what some of the strongest voices suggest a school SHOULD do when they have someone physically abusing others in the school (yes, I’m looking at you Alexandra)? Surely you wouldn’t advocate for a moment that the school shouldn’t take steps to protect others from this student’s physical abuse – so then, what steps should they take? How can I be sure that my daughter in kindergarten is safe from the physical abuse of other students? Should the school have just built a bigger cage so the teachers and the rest of the students could shelter in it every time one uncontrollable student ran rampant?

What about the “cage-like structure” beside the Monaro Highway just north of Hume – isn’t a primary purpose of that to protect the rest of the community from people who would physically abuse others? Perhaps if a few more kids had an early taste of “gaol time”, they mightn’t be so inclined to need it later.

Isn’t there an outcry (as there should be) every time a woman is killed by her boyfriend/husband who has not been restrained despite the woman’s previous pleas? If a child is free to physically abuse others, but an adult is not, when is the time at which it becomes unacceptable, and how is this to be taught to such people?

When I was in primary school, there was one kid in particular I remember that had extreme behavioural issues. I was only in maybe year 4 or 5, so I don’t know whether he had autism or another condition but anyway he used to have violent outbursts quite frequently. He had a teachers aide/carer most of the time and she managed to get him out of the classroom nine times out of ten before things got really out of hand. There was only one or two instances that I remember when the male principal had to physically remove the child from the room.

When I was in high school, another kid had a condition (again, I can’t remember what it was) but he was prone to similar outbursts. He had a teachers aide/carer too. If he started to get worked up the teachers aide/carer could obviously spot this a mile away and would take him out of the classroom quickly for a walk so he could calm down.

I don’t think you can compare this to a prison. This is a child we’re talking about. Locking him in a cage every time he has an outburst is not going to fix anything.

tim_c 3:52 pm 10 Sep 15

“the child was believed to have been physically abusive towards his teacher and other students.”

While not suggesting a cage in this case is appropriate, I’d like to know what some of the strongest voices suggest a school SHOULD do when they have someone physically abusing others in the school (yes, I’m looking at you Alexandra)? Surely you wouldn’t advocate for a moment that the school shouldn’t take steps to protect others from this student’s physical abuse – so then, what steps should they take? How can I be sure that my daughter in kindergarten is safe from the physical abuse of other students? Should the school have just built a bigger cage so the teachers and the rest of the students could shelter in it every time one uncontrollable student ran rampant?

What about the “cage-like structure” beside the Monaro Highway just north of Hume – isn’t a primary purpose of that to protect the rest of the community from people who would physically abuse others? Perhaps if a few more kids had an early taste of “gaol time”, they mightn’t be so inclined to need it later.

Isn’t there an outcry (as there should be) every time a woman is killed by her boyfriend/husband who has not been restrained despite the woman’s previous pleas? If a child is free to physically abuse others, but an adult is not, when is the time at which it becomes unacceptable, and how is this to be taught to such people?

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