A NOTE TO PARENTS AND CARERS: WHEN SICK KIDS MISS SCHOOL WORK (PRIMARY SCHOOL)
Sick kids miss school in three ways:
- They mightn’t be well enough to attend because of illness, hospital stays, recovery at home, or frequent visits to doctors.
- They might be physically at school, but feel unwell and can’t concentrate because of that or because their medications make them sleepy, inattentive or impact brain function.
- The medical condition often has emotional/social impacts on your kid, meaning they may be anxious and/or feel different and isolated from their peers.
What The School Is Required To Do For Your kid (According To The Law)
The Australian Disabilities Discrimination Act (1992) (DDA) requires all students with a Disability in all states and territories to be given equal opportunities to all other students within each education system. Students with serious and chronic medical conditions do fit the definition of “disability”.
The definition of disability under the DDA includes physical, intellectual, psychiatric, sensory, neurological, and learning disabilities, as well as physical disfigurements, and the presence of disease-causing organisms in the body. The definition includes past, present and future disabilities as well as imputed disabilities and covers behaviour that is a symptom or manifestation of the disability (June, 2012. Australian Government Report on the Review of Disability Standards for Education 2005)
What this means:
- If you provide medical documentary evidence to the school proving your kid’s condition, the school should make “reasonable adjustments” for your kid’s education.
- What this means depends on the school, how much information you supply, and the level of resources they have.
- It may mean a whole range of possibilities that should be designed to help your kid either “catch up” on missed work, or learn more successfully (see practical strategies).
- The school must consult with you on how to organise the best adjustments, adjustments should be formally documented (i.e. Individual Learning Plan), you should be kept informed of the plan and progress, to a reasonable level.
- The word reasonable is legally difficult to define and that is why individual schools and school systems differ in what they provide.
- The school must provide support/access/provision for any physical limitations your kid may have (e.g. wheelchair access to all relevant facilities).
- If your kid can’t get up stairs to a particular classroom, the school is obliged to arrange an alternative, equally suitable place for the class to be held. The school isn’t allowed to exclude a student from the class on the basis of physical inability to get there.
- Providing you give written permission, the school is required to pass on all relevant information regarding your kid’s medical condition and its impacts on learning to: relevant class teachers, supervisors, and any specialist teachers involved with your kid.
WHAT THE SCHOOL IS NOT REQUIRED TO DO FOR YOUR KID (ACCORDING TO THE LAW)
The school isn’t required to provide adjustments that would cause “unjustifiable hardship” to the school. This means that schools might sometimes say the cost of some levels of support is beyond the school’s ability to provide. (Note, in some cases, the school may be able to seek additional funding from their Department, or an outside funding source.)
- Because it involves your kid, you should expect to be consulted on alternative adjustments.
- The school isn’t expected to be in constant contact with the parent/carer. The frequency of this should be set out at the start, through consultation.
- The school can’t guarantee your kid’s academic success. They can only support your kid as per their consultation with you.
WHAT YOU CAN DO TO HELP YOUR KID AND THE SCHOOL
Meet with the teacher and (preferably) either the school principal or deputy to talk through the circumstances.
- Ask the class teacher to be responsible for sending home folders or e-files of missed work, including: handouts, information on assessments and tests, worksheets and resources.
- Ask for the work to be emailed to the (parent/carer) account from the school email account (this allows monitoring for appropriate cyber security).
- Ask the classroom teacher if they are willing to be the communication liaison person between you and the school for information like: your kid’s medical needs at school and any emotional issues of which they need to be alerted.
- Any work sent home should cover the same information which the rest of the class has covered.
- “Busy work” such as colouring-in and making “title pages” generally isn’t relevant for mid- to upper-primary kids and doesn’t help your kid catch-up on what they have missed). Nevertheless, each kid’s capacity should be judged by how well they are.
- Maintain regular communication with your kid’s teacher so they know what level of illness and ability to work they need to cater for. (Either by phone, visit or email.)
- Keep written records of all the communication between you and the school.
- Ask for any critical information to be passed on to other relevant staff.
- If you don’t have a computer at home, you can ask if your kid can borrow or rent a laptop from the school library or computer lab. (The school isn’t obliged to provide this, but it’s worth asking.)
- Ask if a friend of your kid could be appointed as a “buddy” who can perhaps visit your kid at home or in hospital. This provides a reference and sharing point for learning. (After all, learning at school is meant to be a social experience!)
- Ask if the classroom teacher is prepared to set up some sort of “real time” contact with your kid (e.g. Skype, Face Time.) Note, the school is not required to do this.
- If it’s needed, you can ask for your kid to be allowed to have shorter days at school (e.g. start later, or finish earlier
WHAT TO DO IF THE SCHOOL REFUSES TO MAKE WHAT YOU THINK ARE “REASONABLE ADJUSTMENTS”
Be politely assertive. First speak with the class teacher. Try a reasonable approach. If other attempts for assistance fail, make an appointment to speak with the Principal and outline the concerns. Take another responsible, trustworthy person to the interview with you. If the other person is not your partner, introduce the person to the Principal and explain the context of their presence. It’s always better, as far as possible, to stay on good terms with the school. It is, after all, where your kid is spending most of his/her day. If all else fails and the principal won’t consider the requests and refuses to consult with you about your kid’s education – or refuses to make any Educational Adjustments for their learning – you have the right to formally complain.
HOW TO MAKE A COMPLAINT
There are several ways you can make a formal complaint. What you choose to do depends on what sort of school system your kid is in. For each;
- Make an appointment to see the appropriate person in each school system and ask their advice/seek action on organising adjustments for your kid.
- Usually, it’s best to start with the district/regional learning support or special education coordinator.
- You should take all the documentation to the appointment.
- You should take along a support person.
- Be assertive, not aggressive.
Public education- state schools: most State Departments of Education have Regional Offices in main regional cities. Start there. Catholic schools: each Catholic Diocese in each state has a Regional Office with a coordinator of Special Education. Start there. Independent schools: includes all other schools – go to the Association of Independent Schools (or each state equivalent). They usually have several Special Education coordinators. Ask their advice. They generally don’t have direct administrative power over Independent Schools, except in some areas of funding – but they are good resource people.
WHAT TO DO IF ALL THAT DOESN’T WORK
Provision for your kid is covered under the Disabilities Discrimination Act (1992). This means it is a law. Because of this, you have the right to press for reasonable adjustments in the school context. Other people to contact:
- The Children’s Commissioner
- The Anti-Discrimination Commissioner in each State or Territory
- The Director (in each State or Territory) of Education
- The Regional Director of Catholic Education
- The Director of the relevant Board of Studies for each State
- A Solicitor interested in Anti Discrimination Law (beware financial costs)
- The Media
Following up the issue of discrimination in schools can be very difficult. This is often why it doesn’t get fixed. If your kid has an ongoing medical, physical or some other disability, you are probably already very stretched. It is always best to try to communicate, collaborate and solve these problems in a reasonable and friendly way at school level, to maintain a positive environment for your kid. If you take the issue beyond the school (and if there is genuine discrimination, it is your right to do so), this may negatively affect your and your kid’s relationships within the school. Once school issues become legal battles, the reality is that relationships become very hard to mend. How far you go depends on how strongly you feel about the problem, what other options are open to you, your personal circumstances and your skill in communications.
A SAMPLE OF QUESTIONS YOU CAN ASK
How can we best communicate? Do you have email access? How long is reasonable to wait for an answer from you? How can we make sure that relief staff are given helpful information about my kid? How often should we review and update school medical and emergency records for my kid? How can we keep my kid enthused about learning when s/he will be away (weekly, monthly, at a moment’s notice)? What is the best way for the hospital school to contact you [assuming your kid will be in hospital]? What do you need from us regarding information about our kid’s condition? What are the timelines/deadlines for any documentation you require (we might not be able to get them, if we don’t have sufficient notice)? Is there a place in the classroom we can go, when returning from absences, to find our notes, school newsletters, etc.? If our kid is away, is it possible for you to email these to us, along with information on special events and excursions (or events for which we need to submit notes/money)? What is the life cycle of the Individual Learning Plan, assessment process for eligibility for funding/special assistance, and the Individual Learning Plan review process? How do they fit together? Who needs to be involved in the process? Can my kid’s Individual Learning Plan be reviewed early in Term 3, to allow for adjustments to take effect, instead of in Term 4 when the year is nearly over? There are, of course, other questions that may arise generally, or for your kid’s specific circumstances. Have your say. Do you have comments, questions, or suggestions after reading this piece?