Parent advocates for classroom equality

Inclusive group: Karen Tippet, Di Samuels, Cecile Sullivan-Elder, Jody Carr, Yolande Cailly, Meg Sweeney, Leanne Varga and Mel Smith.
Inclusive group: Karen Tippet, Di Samuels, Cecile Sullivan-Elder, Jody Carr, Yolande Cailly, Meg Sweeney, Leanne Varga and Mel Smith.

Di Samuels of Merimbula passionately believes that every child, no matter who they are, should have a place in, and feel valued at their local, school.

Ms Samuels has just returned from an Inclusive Education study tour in New Brunswick, Canada. This was sponsored by the Sydney-based organisation Family Advocacy where she has been a member for nearly a decade since her youngest daughter Rhiannon, who has Down Syndrome, was a pre-schooler.

Seven Family Advocates had an intense week-long program lined up by New Brunswick former Minister of Education Jody Carr MLA. It consisted of impressive visits to schools, meetings with other politicians and Department of Education officials as well as associates of provincial and national advocacy organisations.

Thirty years ago, New Brunswick moved to a single education system closing segregated educational institutions originally established by parents as the only means, at the time, to give their disabled children an education.

Ms Samuels said that they were welcomed by educators and students who had experienced the fruits of two generations of Inclusive Education.

“Diversity was embraced as something that makes for a richer society,” she said.

“Australia has a similar history to Canada with parents being the founders of special schools as a means to an end, but conversely to what happened overseas, the trend of a parallel education path continues and is prolific here today.

“This creates a huge barrier for students with disabilities to access the regular school system. The shocking fact is that the 2016 NSW Auditor General’s report found that around 25 per cent of parents had been told by school staff that there was no place for their child at their local school. 

“Rhiannon’s one of the lucky minority, where she has the good fortune to presently attend the mainstream of her local high school and feel a sense of belonging there,” Ms Samuels said.

On June 30 she was in Sydney with fellow advocates to launch the “Same Classroom, Same Opportunities” campaign.

“The NSW government’s approach to education for children and young people with disability means they are often sent to special schools or support units within regular schools. Family Advocacy is calling on the next state government to set a target that 90 per cent of children with a disability attend the same regular classroom as their peers in their local school by 2022, to cease building new special schools or creating new support units,” Ms Samuels said.