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Student with Down syndrome has enrolment 'cancelled' by Launceston school

The family of a 15-year-old girl who lives with Down syndrome says she had her enrolment he learning plan proposed by the school and submit her to a psychological test.

Abigail Talbot was attending St Patrick's College, a Catholic co-educational secondary college in Launceston in Tasmania's north catering for year 7 to year 12.

Her mother said the learning plan the school suggested was not done in consultation with her family or speech therapist, as recommended by the Australian Disability Standards for Education, and was not in line with best practice.

"Down Syndrome Australia recommends that students work within the current year curriculum for their year," Abigail's mother Melinda Talbot said.

"Abi is currently in year 9, but the work that's set for her was in early years, probably prep to grade 2. "There was a picture [in the plan] of some work that was of the Very Hungry Caterpillar, and that's a book that children tend to read when they're in preschool or prep, so that's not appropriate for a student who's 14 years old." Melinda Talbot says her daughter Abigail was given "appropriate" work in line with the Australian curriculum in primary school.

Ms Talbot said Abigail's underlying health issues, including "fatigue and debilitating headaches", made it inappropriate for a psychological test to be carried out.

"We actually didn't feel that it was needed, she'd been at the school for two and a half years, we'd also provided a lot of info to the school, we had info from her grade 6 teacher when she started year 7, from her speech therapist, from Down Syndrome Tasmania and ourselves," Ms Talbot said.

The family said when the terms of her enrolment were not agreed to, Abigail's enrolment was terminated.

A letter from the school to the family last Monday said:

I now write to inform you that as we have not come to any resolution of the matters relating to Abigail's enrolment, that her enrolment is now cancelled effective as at the end of Term 2.
Abigail's locker will be cleaned out and the contents will be couriered to your place of residence.
The family says tasks set were not 'appropriate'
Ms Talbot said "appropriate" work that was in line with the Australian curriculum was set for Abigail when she was at her primary school.
But she said when Abigail started at St Patrick's College, she was set what the family saw as tasks that were not age-appropriate.
"When she started in year 7, she was doing counting activities and activities like joining the dots … she was made to set up a pretend shop in her year 7 maths class," Ms Talbot said.
"She reported being quite distressed by that, and not only did she feel she wasn't learning, but she was also actually quite embarrassed."

Her mother also said Abigail was prevented from going outside at lunchtime when she was in year 7, with the school citing safety reasons.

Abigail's mother said she took a complaint to the Human Rights Commission and then to the Federal Court in December last year on the basis of discrimination. The matter is ongoing. St Patrick's College in Launceston caters for students from years 7 to 12.

The ABC put a number of questions to the school about the cancellation of Abigail's enrolment and other allegations put forward by her family, including regarding the school's approach to Abigail's learning.

A response was provided by Catholic Education Tasmania.

It said it was "unable to comment as the case is still before the Federal Court".

"Tasmania's 38 Catholic schools and colleges provide safe environments in a manner that optimises all students' learning opportunities to grow and develop and reach their full potential," it said.

Abigail's mother said the cancellation of Abigail's enrolment was not included in the discrimination claim.

Advocate says students have the right to equal access

Disability advocate Kristen Desmond said it was up to schools to put in reasonable adjustments so any child could access the Australian curriculum and do work that was suitable for their age group. Kristen Desmond says it sends the wrong message to children living with disabilities.(ABC News: Craig Heerey)"The independent learning plan should enable her to access the curriculum and should enable her to get the same education experience as her non-disabled peers," she said. "We seem to lower our expectations on what kids with a disability can attain in their education, and the message we're sending to students at this school is kids with Down syndrome can't be educated here."That is an awful, awful message to be sending to a school community that should be inclusive." She said the Government needed to crack down on independent schools if they were doing the wrong thing. "At the end of the day, why is the Catholic system any different to any other system? No public school could demand what this Catholic school is doing," she said. She said they should install an independent disability commissioner so parents did not have to go through so many hoops. The Tasmanian Education Minister Jeremy Rockliff said he was open to the idea of an independent commissioner. "I'd be interested to sit down with advocates of students with disability to see exactly what that proposal entails," Mr Rockliff said. He also said all schools had the responsibility to create an inclusive environment. "I hear what people are saying and we have to ensure that we build a very inclusive environment within our schools irrespective of sector, whether that be independent, Catholic or our public education system," he said. He said while he was not familiar with the Talbots' story, the setting of schoolwork that was not consistent with the age group of a student with a disability was "not appropriate at all".

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