Anger as disabled pupils spend up to four hours a day on bus

Natalie Craig

August 15, 2010

    Stephanie Gotlib, with son Adam, says conditions on buses servicing specialist schools are "inhumane". <i>Picture: Craig Sillitoe</i>

    Stephanie Gotlib, with son Adam, says conditions on buses servicing specialist schools are “inhumane”. Picture: Craig Sillitoe

    DISABLED children are spending up to four hours a day on Victorian school buses, where they are banned from eating and drinking and cannot take toilet breaks.

    Parents say their children have suffered dehydration, toileting problems and emotional distress on the free bus service that runs children to and from specialist schools.

    The Education Department says it has introduced 89 bus services to special schools since 2007. But disability advocates say travel times remain excessive.

    Matthew Potocnik said his nine-year-old son, who has Angelman syndrome and cannot walk unassisted or speak, is picked up from home in Brunswick at 7.20am and, after several stops to collect other children, arrives at Glenroy Specialist School about 9am. His round trip can be close to four hours.

    ”By the time he gets to school, he is just too tired to participate,” Mr Potocnik said. ”His development is being stymied and his physical problems exacerbated.” He and his wife have driven their son to school when possible but work commitments mean they must still rely on the bus service.

    Disability discrimination advocate Julie Phillips said she had heard similar complaints about the bus service from about 30 parents in the past two years.

    Fiona-Jane Cardona’s eight year-old son, who has an intellectual disability, takes almost two hours to travel home to Warrandyte on the bus from his specialist school in Burwood East.

    ”Normal children wouldn’t spend 4&frac12; hours a day on the bus – mainstream society wouldn’t accept it,” she said. ”But because we’re a minority, they’re not prepared to spend the money.”

    Opposition education spokesman Martin Dixon said the government was not meeting rapidly increasing demand for special school services.

    A spokeswoman for the Education Department said the majority of children attending the Burwood East and Glenroy specialist schools arrived at their destinations within 90 minutes.

    She said the department spends $50 million a year on school buses for more than 7000 students with special needs.

    Raelene Kenny, principal at Glenroy Specialist School, said the school council was surveying parents about the buses, but she believed the majority of parents and children were happy with the service.

    She said that adding more buses routes would be unlikely to get the children home any earlier, because of the extra time needed to load children onto buses.

    Stephanie Gotlib, head of Children with Disability Australia, said conditions on the buses remained ”inhumane”.

    Children were sometimes forcibly restrained and unable to eat, drink or go to the toilet for long periods, she said.

    She has written to federal Attorney-General Robert McClelland, claiming the bus service breached international conventions on the rights of children and people with disabilities.

    Ms Gotlib’s son Adam, 10, used to spend four hours travelling between his Collingwood home and the Northern Autistic School on the days when she was unable to drive him.

    He is now at Clifton Hill Primary School, a short drive away.

    ”He is a valued member of his school and community and now has much more time to play and hang out … No child should be stuck on a bus for four hours a day,” she said.

     

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