3 May 2012
I have long wondered whether legal action over educational failure is navigable. But I had always thought that it was likely be played out at the tertiary level – something along the lines of a student questioning the legality of the institution failing to deliver a “product” purchased by the students and perhaps under the Consumer Guarantee Act.
Melbourne student, Beau Abela, has sued the Department of Education in Victoria, Australia, because he is unable to read or write or count. He is reported as saying that he was “silenced with medications and teachers blamed his inability to learn on eating doughnuts.”
His case was that his early education showed a well-adjusted, happy and responsible lad and now he is being described as aggressive and disengaged. He cannot demonstrate the literacy or numeracy skills that are required for employment.
Most interest in the case is in the way it has proceeded.
The Abela’s claim that schools simply dished out medication rather than actually help the boy who had ADHD, they promoted him year after year despite his not achieving at each level and that the father’s attempts to intervene were ignored.
On the other side, the claim is made that the Discrimination Act does not require them to act in response to the boy’s needs. Furthermore, the boy “had an IQ of only 62!” And that the real reason the boy failed was “that he had not received enough help with his homework.”
“We are not blaming the father, we are not blaming the family,” says learned QC for the Department.”but the child had come from a broken home and was clearly emotionally disturbed.” This was after noting that the boy was “destabilised” (sic) by his mother when he was young because of perceived threats to him and his sister, “…the teachers did a fantastic job.
There is an element of farce in the Department’s case with the QC’s emailing that Beau often ate sugary, fatty foods, such as doughnuts, and this is only one example of a lack of home support. “teachers we’re really worried that Beau Abela was going to school without a wholesome meal.” But this is no French farce, it is more like a minor tragedy played out by many families in many countries.
This case (which is still proceeding), pits two sides against each other who have in all likelihood done their best. Families cope as best they can and the schools can only do their best by coping. Individual students including many with special needs, fall through the cracks of schools under pressure in a system that is itself under severe pressure.
There won’t be a winner in this instance. The Department will simply answer the charge while the family will have great difficult in seeing the complaint succeed. This is because no-one is responsible for educational achievement and lame attempts to simply blame the family underlines the failure of a community and a plethora of government agencies to maintain the ability of a community both to manage generally but also to interface effectively with educational providers. Thrashing it out in the courts is a pointless exercise.
I wonder if an adequate programme of support for Beau Abela might have been provided by Department for much the same cost as that of defending the allegations?