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Parents say school treated boy 'like a leper'

The parents of a five-year-old boy with a speech disability have complained to the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission after the Maitland-Newcastle Catholic Schools Office denied him immediate admission to a school.

Melinda Atkins said yesterday that Newcastle Bishop Michael Malone's executive assistant, John Carmody, had told her that if the school accepted their son Jack, other "normal" children would miss out.

Mr Carmody disputes the claim. "The parents became emotional and I responded accordingly." He denied using the word "normal" in his exchanges with the parents.

"The decision was made on the basis of strong professional advice and best practice," said diocesan director of schools Michael Bowman (pictured). Jack had been accepted into a government-run intensive language support class, which would better meet his special needs.

Upon completion of the Shortland Intensive Language Support Class, Jack Atkins had been assured a place at Corpus Christ Primary School, Waratah."

But Jack's parents believe their son, whose speech disability stems from a hearing impairment in infancy, would benefit more from starting kindergarten at the same school as his two older brothers.

Bishop Malone endorsed the recommendation, stressing that the Catholic education system in the Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle is committed to supporting children with disabilities and special needs. "We provide considerable resources to support children with special needs," he said.

According to a statement released by the Diocese yesterday, the Catholic Schools Office provides Teaching and Learning Facilitators in every school, as well as special needs index funding, additional funds for integration and provision of professional development. It staffs and funds the Special Education and Counselling Centre known as the Saint Laurence Centre.

School treated boy 'like a leper' (Sydney Morning Herald 9/12/03)
Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle Responds to Discrimination Claims (Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle 8/12/03)

Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle
Catholic Schools Office, Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle
Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission

9 Dec 2003