In the current hostile atmosphere with the Victorian DET towards homeschoolers, I would be too scared to be honest about my family’s experiences if they were to know my name. So, I’m only prepared to tell my child’s story completely anonymously.
My son has autism and learning disabilities. He attended a Victorian public school for a number of years, during which time his reports showed he was a sweet, compliant, quiet child who wanted to be liked and fit in. We thought he’d settle into school over time, but he hated it and cried every day. Weekends were spent dreading the next week at school. The school consistently dismissed my concerns, stating he was happy and a high achiever. We were accused of helicopter parenting and lying about our son’s anxiety over school.
My son suffered incontinence due to extreme anxiety. Of course, we tried everything – including consulting specialists. He took changes of clothes to school but he’d soil those as well. There were special needs toilets that provided privacy, but he didn’t have access to them because he was able-bodied. He started self-harming. He wanted to die. His paediatrician warned that if he stayed in school he might end up finding a way to make that happen. We tried to do the ‘right’ thing by continuing his enrolment in the state school. We were accused of lying about my son’s incontinence, and a senior teacher also told me if it was actually happening, he should take responsibility and just stop it.
I heard lies told to other parents whose kids had special needs, including a staff member mistaking my phone call for another parent, thinking they were telling his mother not to worry because her son was happy and coping – yet I’d seen her son sobbing in a corner that very morning after she left. I didn’t know his mother but I still wish I’d made the effort to find her and tell her the truth.
One day a teacher accidentally locked my son in a classroom and turned the lights off. Because of his autism my son didn’t think to make noise to attract attention. I had to insist on help to locate my son, and long after others had gone home, we found him crying in a corner. There was no explanation or apology offered, the teacher just walked away. My son was devastated. Some time later when I approached another senior teacher about my concerns over our son’s distress, the teacher stood leaning over me and demanded my son had to toughen up. We withdrew him from school.
Over the following years, a number of parents from our former school told me how distressed their own child was that my son smelt, that he would cry because he couldn’t understand the lessons and how they hated hearing their own child’s stories of the bullying and nicknames. That their child felt my son was so kind and sweet, but while they were sorry we had left, they were relieved their child didn’t have to witness my son’s trauma anymore. My sons’ memories still haunt him and he cries when he talks about his school days. He spent years feeling weird, ashamed, stupid and worthless.
Now we pursue a well-rounded education and my son is excelling in ways he never thought possible. I employ various educational professionals who all assure me my son’s education is ideal for his needs and allows a high standard of education that a special needs school couldn’t provide, and a public school would have neither the time nor funds for. However, the work my son completes does not strictly follow the Victorian state school curriculum. The proposed changes that DET is trying to enforce on Victorian home educating families may force parents to prove they’re following all aspects of the Victoria curriculum despite the fact many schools work around the rules, and can do this because they’re registered with the government. These new rules will be especially damaging for special needs kids. Families can be deregistered from home schooling if they don’t strictly comply. The children would then be forced back into the very schools that failed them in the first place. The proposed regulations are vague in many ways, especially for special needs children. This in turn allows a lot of power for DET, and a lot of fear for all parents, even more so for parents with special needs children.
If the Victorian Parliament passes the DET home education reforms in June 2017, my son’s specialists can’t protect my son. He can be deregistered and placed back into the world of bullying and suicidal thoughts. Any extra funding from taxpayers’ pockets to assist him in school won’t likely meet his needs. He would also face further limited opportunities as an adult, because there’s no energy or time to enhance those skills he does excel at. He doesn’t have the energy to have friends or hobbies or complete homework when he attends school. In our current life, he has many friends and hobbies and believes he has a life worth living in the future. He’s planning for his tertiary education!
Schools are supposed to educate every child so that once they’re adults, they can sustain meaningful employment and pay taxes and be a positive functioning member of society. As adults, we know its not ok to be stuck in abusive or neglectful situations, yet we expect some children should accept that, then wonder why some suicide or aren’t financially contributing members of society when they become adults. This isn’t logical. No system is perfect for everyone, therefore people who home educate children should be provided with genuine support, not threats of deregistration if their education enables their child a more fulfilling integration into society as an adult. Even if that means not every aspect of the state curriculum is followed to the letter. Even if it means not every week is planned out meticulously at the beginning of every year in a provable way, in case DET asks for it.
If you didn’t trust DET with your submission, we can publish it here for you, anonymity guaranteed. Email email@example.com