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.
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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.