Support cuts a blow for students
LIKE MANY kids with a diagnosed mental disability, Alek Salinger needed extra attention when he was in primary school.
The 18-year-old Biala Special School student attended Ballina Public during his primary years where he received crucial assistance from a school learning support officer.
Without that aid, Alek's experience, which helped him adjust to mainstream school life before he entered Biala in Year 8, would have been unbearable.
Now some NSW students with mental disabilities who don't meet a certain diagnosis threshold have had their individual aid removed.
At least 12 primary schools and one high school on the Northern Rivers will lose a total of $168,000 in funding for students with "low level" mental disabilities.
The changes are part of a funding reallocation by the State Government which the Department of Education says will give schools more flexibility to assist students with mental disabilities.
School education director for the North Coast Region Robyn O'Neill said: "The funding allocation across the state has not reduced, and in fact there's $69 million in extra funding for students with disabilities.
"Most schools in the North Coast region have maintained the same level of staffing; I think there's a very small number which have decreased."
But John Cahill of the Public Service Association of NSW described the changes as a "dressed-up spending cut".
"The only way to make up the funding shortfall is to get rid of the student learning-support officers; they just don't have the money to fund these positions," Mr Cahill said.
Reflecting on Alek's experience, his mum Kate Salinger said "if that aid was removed, there would be a lot more kids not in school; there would be far more pressure on teachers and that would impact on every student".
Wendy Briggs is the mother of Codey, 11 and Brady, 5, who have both been diagnosed with Asper- gers, with Brady also selective mutism and sensory processing disorder, which means he has trouble with sensory overload and needs regular breaks from external stimulation.
"I'm a mother who has fought very hard to get her children into a mainstream school," she said.
"Now some bureaucrat in Sydney tells me neither of my children now qualifies for funding."
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