By Cam Lucadou-Wells
Berwick 11-year-old Jack Ottens’s deprivation from an education appears to be far from a one-off.
Unable to regularly attend school due to a life-threatening illness, Jack has not been able to access a teacher’s aide or home tuition – as reported in Star News recently.
He failed to meet the Program for Students with Disabilities criteria for such assistance.
The criteria covers a “significant health impairment” but only those that require “regular paramedical support”.
The department has found Jack’s illness is not significant enough.
Since the report, Tynong single-mother Sharon McKail says her son, who is on the autism spectrum, also failed the PSD criteria.
The Year 9 student was unable to qualify for a teacher’s aide due to his language skills being too advanced and his IQ being above 70.
“His IQ is below 80 but above 70,” Ms McKail says.
As a result, her son struggles to keep up with schoolwork despite the best efforts of his under-resourced school, she says.
It isn’t a positive experience for him, so he often refuses to go to school, she says.
Ms McKail is part of a 300-plus member Facebook group Change the Criteria that has waged a campaign against the PSD rules since 2012.
Many of its members have been unable to access funding to support children with autism spectrum disorder in Victorian public schools.
Ms McKail says there’s been little change, with Victoria well-behind her native New South Wales’s inclusivity.
“I really think the Government should re-establish special education units so the kids have the aides to help them.”
Likewise, Jack Ottens’s mother Christine has waged a six-year battle for more help for her brilliant Mensa-listed boy, writing even to the Education Minister James Merlino to intervene.
All Jack receives is an hour visit from a teacher each week to organise school work to be provided by his primary school.
He was rejected from qualifying for the State’s home-based education support program and the Program for Students with Disabilities.
Due to his sickness – and the 200 medical appointments a year – Jack couldn’t keep up with the distance-education program.
A Department of Education and Training spokeswoman told Star News the department and school staff would continue to work with Jack’s family to support his learning goals.
“When his health allows, Jack is supported by the school and the Department at his home to enable him to access the curriculum taught by his teacher at school.
“The school is working with the family to progress an application for evaluation in this year’s annual Program for Students with Disabilities round.”
Ms Ottens noted that the Department had “absolutely no interest in helping Jack until they knew (the news) article was coming out.”