Dodgy report clears Victoria's schools to cage special needs students

Dear colleague

The attached document has taken half a day to prepare but only scratches the surface of this appalling corrupt investigation into Bendigo SDS.

If you have Facebook pages that parents of children attending Bendigo SDS may access, please post this. It is important that they have an understanding that the recent letter they received from the Department of Education is misleading.

If you are involved in advocacy for people with disabilities, it is important that action is taken on this letter. In Victoria, we have the imprimatur of the most senior people in the Department of Education and Training, including the Deputy Premier, of the use of cages in classrooms, revolting structures such as the one attached, the training of staff in pressure points and more. Why? Because children with disabilities are regarded as human beings without rights to the same dignified treatment as children without disabilities.

The acceptance of cages in classrooms leaves Victoria out on a limb in terms of the rest of the country.

If you have contacts at the United Nations, please ask them to visit us urgently. If you wish to assist in the lobbying of dignified treatment for children with disabilities in Victoria, please consider contacting our Premier Daniel Andrews on I am calling for Minister Merlino, Secretary Gill Callister, and Acting Deputy Secretary Bruce Armstrong to be removed. People who believe this treatment is appropriate for people with disabilities simply cannot be entrusted with their care.

Please contact me for further information. Please help our children.

Warm regards
Julie Phillips

Disability Advocate
PO Box 412
Fairfield VIC 3078
Ph/Fax: (03)9481-0999
Mobile: 0417 570 197


Bendigo special school that put student in pen cleared of wrongdoing

A Victorian special school that placed a child who suffered seizures in a pen has been cleared of wrongdoing after an investigation.

Education Minister James Merlino ordered an investigation into Bendigo Special Developmental School in October after parents, teachers and disability advocates alleged the school had locked students in cages and used restraint, seclusion and martial arts techniques to control them.
The investigation, by law firm Justitia, concluded there was "no reasonably foreseeable risk of injury or inappropriate treatment to current students" at the school.

It said it was appropriate for the school to use enclosed spaces and classroom pens.

"The classroom pens resemble playpens," it said.
They were used in two classrooms in 2014 and 2015 to "ensure the safety of a student who experienced seizures" and provide a "safe place to lie down and recover".

The pen prevented vision-impaired students from tripping over the recovering student, it said. It also ensured the student was separated "from other students that may display aggressive behaviours such as biting or scratching".

A teacher who provided evidence to investigators described the pen as a "cage", saying it was made out of pool fencing and could be locked. 
The law firm looked into 43 allegations, including 20 that were made directly against the school's principal, but only three were substantiated.
Serious allegations that staff used pressure point techniques to control students were unsubstantiated, but the investigation confirmed that self-defence instructors ran training at the school.

"The use of 'pressure points' techniques was referred to as a last resort for use in times of emergency (e.g. if a student has dropped on a road)," the report said.
Disability advocate Julie Phillips strongly criticised the findings, saying Victoria's Education Department was "backwards and brutal".  

"Secretary Gill Callister and the rest of the Department of Education are hopelessly out of their depth if they think that training staff in pressure points and caging children with disabilities is appropriate," she said.

Mr Merlino said the report found there was no systemic practices or issues that posed a risk to students.

"My expectation is that all Victorian schools will continually improve," he said.

A new officer in the department – known as a principal practice leader – will work with the school to improve its practices, he said.

Carolyn O'Sullivan said she had pulled her 13-year-old daughter, Holly, out of the school in late 2009, after noticing that she was regularly coming home with bruises on her arms in the shape of fingerprints.

Ms O'Sullivan raised concerns with the school about the bruises, and later discovered that Holly, who has severe autism and is non-verbal, was being restrained after being aggressive towards staff.

She said the school's response was inadequate. "I totally understand they need to control a student if they are being aggressive, but I would have thought better behavioural therapies could have been used to deal with this," she said.

"Even now, when we go near the school, she gets frightened and starts screaming."

Children With Disability Australia chief executive Stephanie Gotlib said the report was a "kick in the guts" for children with a disability and their families.

"If that was a child who suffered seizures at Clifton Hill Primary School it would not even be a consideration that you would whack up a pen and monitor them there," she said.

Principal Julie Hommelhoff welcomed the findings and said the school looked "forward to recovering from this process and remain committed, as always, to continuous improvement".

The findings come after a principal at a Canberra school was forced to stand down for authorising the construction of a cage for an autistic student.  


PDF icon Bendigo SDS Investigation Summary.pdf105.54 KB