Tough discipline on the school bus

Michael Teggerth and his daughter Caitlyn, who are seeking damages in VCAT.
Michael Teggerth and his daughter Caitlyn, who are seeking damages in VCAT. Photo: Adam Trafford

Last year, Michael Teggerth was told his 11-year-old daughter Caitlyn, who has epilepsy and developmental delays, was tied up by a school bus driver, allegedly for trying to damage the bus.

''She has a very vivid imagination - she was pretending to be a lion or tiger and scratching the seat,'' Mr Teggerth said. ''When they tried to tie her up, she started fighting and the driver and the carer on the bus both slapped her.''

Anne Maree Stewart started court action for her son Matthew.
Anne Maree Stewart started court action for her son Matthew. Photo: Julie Hough

Mr Teggerth said when he met staff from Caitlyn's school, Ballarat Specialist School, later that day, they said nothing about the incident but complained about her behaviour.

''When she pointed out, 'I got tied up on the bus', I thought, 'That explains it'. Surely this can't happen? This is the 21st century, not the 16th century.''

Mr Teggerth will seek damages in the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal, alleging discrimination and ''inhumane and degrading'' treatment in breach of the charter of human rights.

The Teggerth family's disability advocate, Julie Phillips, said the use of physical restraint against a student with a disability was far from isolated in Victorian schools.

''It is very common unfortunately, and the reason is that it seems to be accepted practice by the Education Department in the behaviour management of children with disabilities,'' she said.

A spokesman for Education Minister Martin Dixon said restraint should only be used in an emergency to prevent students from inflicting harm on themselves or others. ''The minister would be concerned if there are cases where restraint has not been used in line with that policy,'' he said.

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The restraint policy is silent on seclusion even though the Education Department told the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission it was a clear breach of policy.

Children with Disability Australia said ''abusive practices in schools'' included the use of a martial arts instructor to train staff in behaviour management and the use of small rooms and small fenced areas as punishment.

In another case before the tribunal, Karen Oakes alleges her autistic son, who was then six, had his challenging behaviours addressed through seclusion and restraint at Alfredton Primary.

''The seclusion involved shutting him in a room for periods of time that were long enough that he soiled and urinated upon himself,'' the complaint says.

"(The Oakes) also became aware (their son) was being forced to the ground and restrained, and dragged from one place to another.''

And in a third case before the Federal Court, Anne Maree Stewart alleges her son Matthew, who has Asperger's syndrome, was subject to physical assault from staff at Maple Street Primary.

"The Department of Education admits to physically restraining Matthew and notes reflect that they did so, even for behaviour which was just described as 'silly'," the complaint form says.

A spokesman said the Victorian Education Department was unable to comment on individual cases due to respect for the privacy of students.

"In addition, the department is uanble to comment on cases that are subject to current legal proceedings," he said.

Mr Dixon's spokesman said while the minister did not ''wish to underplay'' concerns raised, the vast majority of staff responded in an effective and caring way to the difficult circumstances that arose in schools daily.

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