The decision to keep Salisbury School open is at odds with the New Zealand Disability Strategy’s goal of an inclusive society, says Massey education specialist Dr Jude MacArthur.
A recent judicial review has over-ruled the proposal from Education Minister Hekia Parata to shut Nelson's Salisbury residential school for girls with intellectual disability. The proposal was to replace Salisbury with wrap-around services in the community, with some girls moving in the interim to Halswell Boys College in Christchurch next year.
This week Justice Robert Dobson over-ruled the decision, concluding that it disregarded "the prospect of greater risk of sexual or physical abuse" to the girls if they were sent to a co-ed special needs school.
Mai Chen, lawyer for the school’s board of trustees, in Radio NZ and Breakfast interviews stated there were concerns the young men with an intellectually disability could start predating on the girls if in the same facility.
However, the IHC challenged that, saying that by portraying the Halswell pupils as potential sexual predators Ms Chen was misleading the public and scaremongering. Dr MacArthur, a senior lecturer at Massey’s College of Education, backs the IHC’s stance and says Ms Chen’s comments reflected a poor understanding of Professor Freda Brigg’s research, which showed disabled boys were likely targets for abuse and needed good support to understand their rights and reduce their vulnerability.
“To portray young men with intellectual disabilities as sexually deviant and ‘predating’ on girls is inaccurate, damaging and archaic," Dr MacArthur says. "This just perpetuates negative stereotypes of disabled people and contributes further to their marginalisation in society.
“These harmful myths should be a thing of the past and Ms Chen’s comments are just another sign it really is time to end the segregation of people with disabilities.”
She says just as institutions have closed because they were found to restrict the lives of disabled people, Ms Parata's proposal to close residential schools and develop supports in the community was an important step towards building a more inclusive society.
“Inclusive education involves changing local schools and communities so all children and young people with disabilities learn well and have friends without having to leave their home.
“We shouldn’t be hiding people away, we need to address their needs in the community. If some boys with intellectual disabilities do engage in unacceptable behaviors, as Ms Chen suggests, then we need to ask why is this happening and what can our community do to help this young person."
The New Zealand Disability Strategy and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities both identify inclusive education in regular schools as vital in a society that enhances the lives of disabled people.
“Teenagers with disabilities, boys and girls, need good education, good role models, and support from their non-disabled peers and friends.” Role models and support are found in regular schools and communities, and developing supports and enhancing teacher knowledge is the way forward, she says.
“We have seen how inclusion can work in other countries and in many of our own schools, but for all schools to be inclusive there needs to be commitment and a universal valuing of disability and other forms of diversity."