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Julie Phillips

Disability Advocate

2 Febtuary 2019

Mr James Merlino
Minister for Education

Dear Mr Merlino

OPEN LETTER

I write in relation to your response to the recent footage of a child with a disability
being dragged at Manor Lakes College and your comment as follows:

'Let me be vety clear, I will not tolerate this kind of completely unacceptable behaviour
in our schools.'

With that comment, you have misled the Victorian public. You have been tolerating
this type of behaviour for years. The only difference with this incident is that it is on
video.

ln 2017, a case was settled which involved the abuse of a young man at the same
college - Manor Lakes. The case is Gray v State of Victoria (Depaftment of Education
and Early Childhood Devetopment)l2017lFCA 353. My client, a young man wiih
Autism Spectrum Disorder, was punched in the throat, and at different times,
subjected to prone restraint, a restraint that has been known to result in death.

There was no video of the incidents, and one of the staff members who subjected my
client to the physical restraint was then made the Principal of Melton Specialist
School. There was no dispute as to whether the events took place. No staff member
was stood down.

Your reSponse to the investigation into Bendigo Special Developmental School,


wher"e there were cages in classrooms, children subjected to assaults, physical
restraints, and put in struciures resembling outdoor toilets, (photograph attached)
Was that " My expectation is that all Victorian schoo/s will improve" . That
investigation was so corrupt that it was looked into by the Victorian Ombudsman
which refuses to release the findings, and the final report of the investigation itself
ha's been refused to be relessed to the publio, even under Freedom of lnformation.
You accepted the explanation that children who had selzures were put in cages in
classrooms so visually impaired students would not trip over them. That was an
insult to the children who have been abused at that school. No staff member was
stood down. You just quietly removed the cages.

PO Box 412, Fairfield VIC 3078


Ph/Fax: 9481-0999 Email: email2jphillips@yahoo.com.au
Mobile: 0417 570 197 ABN: 85 403 892 030
www.educationrights.com.au &
Koenders ys stafe of victoria vlD 553t2014 which settled in 20'16, involved
documentedevidenceofmyclientbeingphysicallydraggedtobeshu.tjn^a-dark
tir" out room at Marnebek Schoo[ a special school, at one stage 2 to 3 times
"rpi,
u OLli t*o out of every three days. This was not disputed. This was similar to the
evidence in Scandotera v State of Victoia VID 738t2014 which again involved
physical restraint and false lmprisonment at the same school, and was settled by the
beiartment of Education and Training. No staff member was stood down, and the
same Principal and Vice Principal remain.
physically
Current clients of mine include those that have been tied up with rope and
restrained, too traumatlsed to return to school; a client who was demonstrating
behaviours of concern over '100 times a week, while the Department of Education
and:Training refused to bring in behavioural support; and a client who was tied to a
chair and the toilet at their school. I could go on.

You and the Department of Education and Tralning are fully aware of.the physical
parents
abuse that students with disabilities are subjected to every year. Not only do
writeto,you,butthisproblemhasbeenhighlightedbythe-VictorianEqual
Opportunii, and Human Rights Commission, the Victorian Auditor General's Office,
Senate
the' Castan Centre for Hurian Rights Law, and the Federal Parliamentary
has
Committee inquiry into the abuse Jf people with disabilitieis. Meanwhile, nothing
changed at the pepartment of Education and Training in terms of any mandatory
poii"ilr and proiedures. Despite a review in 2015, schools continue to receive the
years this being
same levels of funding for students with disabilities, despite over the
program'
highlighted as being c-ompletely inadequate. All we have is one pilot

When desperate parents write to you, you send the letter io the Department
of
Education and Training, and the pirentj receive a letter from you, dictated
by the
of students with
Legal Division. You hive ignored the problem of systemic abuse
for
aisibitities in Victorian scflools for the entire time you have been Minister
Education.

Meanwhile, the Legal Division at the Department of Education and


Training is
millions olf dollat= of Victorian taxpayer's money on top tier law firms
irl"frJinj'Vint"r Eltison, Allens Linklaters, Clayton Utz and Maddocks Lawyers toa
"p"nJing
agiresivety fight any parent of a child with a disability that dares to parents,
make
ciitpfaint agaiist youi bepartment. Children are traumatised, as are their
a;rd you do nothing.

The complaints system for the Department of Education and Training is so broken
that Deputy Secietary Bruee Armstrong advises parents in writing who make
comptaints ihrt tf,"y will not be hearing from him in response The only
recourse
prr"nts of students with disabilities have to obtain the most basic supports for their
and
Lhildr"n, such as behavioural support, aide support, speech pathology suppo.f.
that.no politician
so on, is to take legal action due io a system that is so dysfunctional
right to a
has the courage to- tackle it. children with disabilities do not even have the
communicatioi method or Auslan interpreters, encouraging behaviours of concern
that Department of Education staff then respond to with violence'
,{t
At the end of this letter, are the reports that are damning of the Department that you
have been in charge for some time. ln response we have a claim of "reform", which
unfortunately simply involves the Department writing some new guidelines, none of
which are required to be read, or followed. Practically speaking, nothing has
changed, and you have a constant stream of parents heading to human rights
commissions and courts to obtain basic supports for their children. Your
Department's response is to attack them with the full might of the Victorian
community's money through aggressive lawyers.

I am glad for the child at Manor Lakes College that he was lucky enough to have
someone video what happened to him. I am desperately sad for all of the other
children whose violent experiences are on paper only but are much worse than this
young man's experience. lt is particularly distressing that despite the findings of the
recent Royal Commission into child sexual abuse and their recommendations,
children with disabilities who report abuse by staff are completely ignored.

Therefore please do not tell us that you do not tolerate this behaviour. You and your
Department have been tolerating it for years, attacking myself and parents for raising
the abuse, and indeed attempting to bring families to their knees through your
lawyers.' lnstead of putting money into the schooling system to try and address the
gross inadequacies listed iri the reports below, the Legal Division led by Ms Kathryn
Johnson gets stronger, and law firms whose behaviour is repugnant, add more
sculptures and a.rt to their city offices.

The Department of Education and Training, led by you, urgently needs an inquiry
into its behaviour towards complainants, corruption, abuse and neglect in terms of its
treatment of students with disabilities. You turning a blind eye and endorsing their
methods while they intimidate, bully and threbten Victorian families and those that
support them, is with respect, a gross failure of leadership, all the more inexplicable
given the victims are vulnerable and marginalised children with disabilities.

a Held Back-the Experiences of Students with Disabilities in Victorian Schoo/s,


Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human."Rights Commission 2012
'Programs for Students with Special Learning Needs Victorian Auditor General
2012
Parliamentary Report on the Abuse of People with Disabilities in lnstitutional
Settings 2015
. Parliamentary Report On Educational Attainment for Students with Disabilities
2016
1 Review of Program for Students with Disabilities, Department of Education
and Training2016 ,#
. Repoft on Students with Disabilities in Victorian Schoo/s Analysis Paper ,
Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission 2017
. Parliamentary Report on Services for People with Autism Spectrum Disorder
2017
o Victorian Ombudsman's lnvestigation into Victorian Government School
Expulsion 2017
t lmproving Educational Outcomes for Children with Disability in Victoria,
Castan Centre for Human Rights Law 2018

cc. Liana Buchanan, Commissioner, Commission for Children and Young People
. Stephanie Gotlib, CEO, Children and Young People with DisabilityAuskalia
' Kristen Hilton, Commissioner, Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights
Commission
Castan Centre for Human Rights Law
Michael O'Brien, Opposition Leader, Liberal Party
Daniel Andrews, Premier of Victoria
. Samantha Ratnam, Leader Victorian Greens

,s