Mother accuses school of restraining autistic son

Benjamin Preiss 19 November 2013

She tells tribunal her child's behaviour deteriorated after attending special school.

A mother of an autistic child has accused a special school of using restraint and seclusion to control challenging behaviour.

The woman is suing the state government in the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal for her son's treatment at Cranbourne's Marnebek School, which caters for children with disabilities.

The mother alleges her son's behaviour deteriorated and his anxiety worsened after he began attending the school as a six-year-old in 2010.

The boy – referred to as HL for legal reasons – now attends a state primary school and has made good progress, the woman told Fairfax Media.

But the school's principal, Karen Dauncey, said in her written statement submitted to the tribunal that she was not in favour of restraining students.

"When a student is behaving in a way that presents a threat to other students, I would prefer to evacuate the entire class before restraining the child," she said.

Ms Dauncey said the school did not seclude students but allowed them access to spaces they found soothing and "that can be away from other students". She said she was unaware of any occasion when HL was secluded in any room or in the school's "sensory garden".

The mother said that Marnebek staff had forced HL to attend assemblies even though the large gatherings heightened his anxiety. But in her statement Ms Dauncey "rejected any suggestion" that HL was restrained during assemblies.

The mother told Fairfax Media that her son had been locked in a courtyard against his will and left alone as a way to deal with challenging behaviour.

In her statement to the tribunal, the mother said she objected to the "constant restraint" of her child at the school.

She wrote that she had seen one staff member force her son between her legs while he was distraught and trying to escape.

"The techniques that Marnebek staff used to address challenging behaviours relied heavily on restrictive practices from my observation," she wrote.

An Education Department spokesman said it would be inappropriate to comment on the matter because it was before the tribunal.

But he said special school leaders and teachers participated in professional learning programs on the “specific and complex needs” of their students.

The allegations come after the Office of the Public Advocate earlier this year called for the use of restrictive interventions in schools to be regulated.

Although she is seeking compensation, the woman said money had not motivated her to take legal action. "I couldn't care less if I come away with nothing," she said.