Second class: private school cash demand for children with disability

PARENTS of children with a disability claim to have been asked to pay additional costs to send their child to private schools – requests that education groups say are illegal.

Tasmanian Disability Education Reform Lobby founder Kristen Desmond said the costs have been suggested to make up for a lack of public funding for additional support to cover teacher aides.

She said some parents had also been advised by private schools that their child would be better supported in the public system.

It is a breach of the law for a school to refuse to enrol a student purely on the grounds of disability, unless the support needed for the student would place the school in financial hardship.

Independent Schools Tasmania executive director Tony Crehan said Tasmanian independent schools complied with the law, but ‘’there are a number of smaller independent schools that could not finance the support for a student with severe disability’’.

Mr Crehan said it was illegal for schools to solicit extra fees to cover support costs.

‘‘However, it would not be illegal for a school to accept an unsolicited voluntary contribution and this may have happened in a few cases,’’ Mr Crehan said. 

‘‘Government funding to assist non-government schools to support students with disabilities is inadequate and the sector has been lobbying governments for decades to rectify this to enable choice of schooling for students with disabilities.’’

In Tasmania, public schools accommodate about 70 per cent of children with disabilities.

Ms Desmond said when parents were advised by private schools that they should look at enrolling their child in the public system, it was "always said in a very nice way".

"It is never, 'No, they can't come here'," she said.

"They do it in such a way that parents are left feeling that their child wouldn't be wanted there, and that in itself would be a reason why you wouldn't enrol."

Children with Disabilities Australia chief executive Stephanie Gotlib supported the education lobby's comments.

Ms Gotlib said there are strong recommendations in the Improved Support For Children with Disabilities Ministerial Taskforce Report, that was released last July and the Senate Inquiry into how schools treat children with a disability report, released last week, and called on the Hodgman government to take action.

Education Minister Jeremy Rockliff said the government took immediate action to commit $1 million to implement several initiatives after last July's Improved Support for Children with Disabilities - Ministerial Taskforce Report and would continue to consider recommendations.

He said initiatives being rolled out this year included providing incentives to attract more teachers and assistants with recognised formal education qualifications in inclusive and special education.

Opposition education spokeswoman Michelle O'Byrne encouraged parents to speak out if they believed they had been discriminated against, so matters could be appropriately investigated. She called for the My School website to publish inclusion and support data.

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