A NSW boy with disabilities was suspended seven times before he was seven years old. Generic iStock image.
A NSW boy with disabilities was suspended seven times before he was seven years old. Generic iStock image.

‘Gobsmacked’: Why school suspended 5yo

The mum of a boy with disabilities who was suspended seven times before he was seven years old, has told a royal commission of repeated attempts to get support in place for him.

"Amy" told the Disability Royal Commission on Tuesday her son's 18 months at a NSW school were 'the most stressful (years) in my life' and have left the boy, now 10, traumatised.

"Sam" has autism, ADHD, anxiety and a number of other conditions.

Amy said she was at first overwhelmed with the school's willingness to accept Sam and provide the support he needed.

But two weeks after he began kindergarten, aged five, he had an outburst and received his first suspension warning for aggressive behaviour.

"It was presented to us like 'rein him in or he's going to be suspended," Amy said.

"I was absolutely floored. For any kindergarten kid, I would think that's not a way to say welcome to the school let alone a kid with additional needs who struggles."

The new principal complained the school wasn't provided any information to support Sam, prompting a "gobsmacked" Amy to turn up with a wad of papers and reports and recommendations that had been provided.

Sam was suspended for the first time in April after the school said he "deliberately" kicked a teacher in the knee when he tried to abscond.

Other suspensions for aggressive behaviour followed, including stretches that lasted 20 days, forcing Amy and her husband to re-organise their lives to support Sam at home.

"I was devastated. I couldn't understand why suspension was being used and there were supports that had been recommended that weren't being used," she said.

Amy appealed two of the suspensions to the education department but was rejected.

"It just didn't feel like anything was changing after each suspension," she said.

She said the department responded by referring to supports in place for Sam, but there was no evidence they were being used consistently.

 

Elizabeth Bennett, counsel assisting the disability royal commission
Elizabeth Bennett, counsel assisting the disability royal commission

 

The suspensions continued into the next year, leaving Amy feeling "deflated" and questioning why it kept happening.

After Sam was suspended a seventh time, this time for another 20 days, he was taken out and home schooled.

Amy said that period was the "most stressful in my life".

"Anyone who knows me will know the incredible pressure we were under as parents and the fear we had for Sam's safety in terms of his absconding behaviour. Every time that phone rang I was waiting to be told he was injured or possibly dead."

Disability royal commission chair Ronald Sackville on Tuesday
Disability royal commission chair Ronald Sackville on Tuesday

 

Amy - who said she was threatened with trespass by the school - called for an independent process to look at what is being done to address behaviour before a child is suspended.

She said authorities needed to treat parents as "human beings that want to be in partnership with the school rather than people to blame or shut out".

"There shouldn't be a system where it can be manipulated to the point where parents feel they have no option … and they have to pull them out to home school them," she said.

"Five, six year olds just at that age don't have the capacity to process and understand a suspension, let alone a child with a disability who is emotionally and socially at a two, three year old level."

Commissioner Ronald Sackville QC noted that Sam's behaviour was described by school authorities as "deliberately" aggressive.

"Under the general law, a child under the age of 10, and people say that should be 14, can't be responsible by way of criminal law and here is a five year old, six year old, characterised as deliberately kicking and deliberately engaging in aggressive behaviour," he said.

A NSW education department official is addressing the commission on Tuesday afternoon.

Originally published as 'Gobsmacked': Why school suspended 5yo



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