An investigation is underway following revelations that a Sydney school installed outside locks on rooms for students who misbehave.
The story came to light after Katerina Ferekos, whose seven-year-old son Yianni is enrolled at the school, raised concerns about mistreatment of students with disorders.
Ms Ferekos’ claims, and her story as exposed by ABC, mobilised The Education Department to investigate Penshurst West Public School.
“I’m not ashamed to have a child with ASD [Autism Spectrum Disorder],” she said, after she found out her son was locked in a tiny sensory room..
“We were told it’s impossible to have locks on the room … and I said, ‘well, they’re there,’ and that’s when an investigation started.”
The Greek Australian mother, confronted the principal to raise her concerns. According to Ms Ferekos, a therapist had to search for keys to be able to reach Yianni Ferekos inside the room on a separate occasion.
Shockingly, instead of a clarification she received a notice from the principal banning her from school grounds.
“Two officers were out the front [of my house] and said, ‘We’re delivering a letter to you on behalf of the school’,” she told ABC.
“Especially in front of my child — the eldest one and who can understand — it made me very distraught.
“Advocating and having a voice for your child is not a crime and I will not stop until my last breath.”
Since, Ms Ferekos went public with her case the school’s principal has been stood aside pending the full investigation while a newsletter was sent out to parents informing them the locks were to be removed.
Deputy Secretary of NSW Department of Education, Murat Dizdar said a new leadership team had been brought into the school.
“These serious allegations point to the fact the departmental policy and procedures appear to have not been followed and we need to allow that thorough investigation to take place.”
“When we became aware of that, our view is that that has again breached departmental policy and procedure in this particular instance.
“We do apologise to the family concerned, it should not have been issued,” Mr Dizdar continued.
“NSW Police were simply doing their work but the department takes full responsibility for the actions in this case.”
The chief executive of Autism Awareness Australia Nicole Rogerson said allegations of mistreatment were becoming far too common and wants state education departments to take note.
“There are so many techniques that could have been used to make this situation better,” she said.
“Sadly, this story isn’t rare at all.
“It’s really important to understand, this isn’t just an isolated case, these cases happen all across the country. We know very well about good inclusive education practices. There’s a lot of research to support it, we know how to do it, it just doesn’t mean it’s being rolled out at the school level.”
Ms Rogerson continued to say that there’s a power imbalance and that “often times a parent wants their child to go to the local school and, depending on how they’re managed, that parent often feels like their child isn’t welcome, they’re not wanted there in that school.
“It makes it very difficult for the parent and principal relationship to be even if the family feels that their child is being mistreated.”