There’s more to this story than I realised. Turns out that we in New Zealand have an Office for Disability Issues within the Ministry of Social Development and that this office has a New Zealand Disability Strategy. Part Three of this strategy states that the New Zealand government will:
3.1 – Ensure that no child is denied access to their local, regular school because of their impairment.
3.3 – Ensure that teachers and other educators understand the learning needs of disabled people.
Which is why IHC, in 2008, took a complaint to the Human Rights Commission “that Government policies and practices prevent disabled students participating fully at their local school.”
The IHC were not impressed by the policy announced by Mr. Hide recently.
IHC director of advocacy Trish Grant said the review did not go far enough.
“There was a lot of hope pinned on this review that it would deal with those fundamental issues … but that hasn’t been achieved,” Ms Grant said. “The review still provides for a dual education system where there are special schools … It’s still kind of tweaking around the edges.”
The reason the IHC lodged its complaint in 2008 is probably something to do with this:
The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities is the first human rights convention of the twenty first century.
New Zealand signed the Convention on 30 March, 2007 and ratified it 26 September, 2008.
And in Article 24 of this Convention we find:
Persons with disabilities are not excluded from the general education system on the basis of disability, and that children with disabilities are not excluded from free and compulsory primary education, or from secondary education, on the basis of disability.
A newspaper from the 2008 tells us,
People with disabilities do not want to be seen as “objects” of charity, or “victims” always in need of social protection, nor as “deserving” cases for medical treatment.
Instead they want to be seen through the same lens as everyone else. This means recognition that people with disabilities are citizens with rights, capable of claiming those rights and of making decisions about their lives based on free and informed consent as active members of society.
and carries on, optimistically,
An initial scan indicates that most of our legislation does comply and it is unlikely that there will need to make too many changes to New Zealand law.
And in truth, the Convention does not include any new rights for people with disabilities, but rather spells out the rights people with disabilities already possess alongside everyone else.
Not so. If the Convention states that children with disabilities need to be viewed in the same way as a child from Somalia, or a child who is Jewish, or a child who is from a poor background, or a child who speaks only Samoan, then of course that child should be included in our mainstream schools no questions asked. And that is what the Convention is saying, and the Convention is what we signed up for. Actually we didn’t just sign up, as the Scoop article crows, we were one of the driving countries behind this Convention.
Here’s where disability advocates and the government really disagree though. You might have noticed that what Trish Grant from the IHC really objected to in the latest policy announcement was the retention of a “dual” education system. There are schools in New Zealand that cater specifically to high needs students. Ms. Grant is advocating the closure of these schools on the basis that students with disabilities should be seen as any other student in New Zealand and should simply attend a regular school.
This is a correct reading of the Convention. However the government, via Mr. Hide, stated that:
Parent’s should have the right to choose where their child goes to school.
Therefore, I’ll be keeping the special schools that provide support to children with very high needs, and encouraging them to provide more specialist out-reach teaching.
Right down at the heart of this debate is the matter of what the mainstream accepts as mainstream, and nice and cosy with that idea is how much people are willing to pay to be inclusive.
On my second placement in my teacher training year I was at an Intermediate that was adding an elevator to its two storey school block because they had a child attending who was in a wheel chair. Students only attend Intermediate school for two years and it was looking pretty likely that by the time the school had made its applications, got funding, had plans drawn up and actually had the elevator added the student who needed it would have moved on to college. Of course when the next student with mobility issues goes to that Intermediate the school will be good to go, but at the time it was happening it looked a little wasteful. But this is the actual nitty gritty of signing a Convention: highly specific building programmes in all the schools of New Zealand to cater to a miniority group with highly diverse needs.
To be honest I think that this is worthwhile, and these building programmes should be undertaken one by one as they come up – but I imagine it is a lot cheaper in tight financial times for the government to leave the special schools open and increase pressure on regular schools to do more (and skip the expense of training as well).
All of this makes me wonder how the most recent convention we signed up to (the rights of indigenous people, remember?) will come back to bite us in the ass.