Latrobe Special Development School – Taj Graduation

Ms BATH (Eastern Victoria) (21:59): (1678)

My adjournment matter this evening is for the Minister for Education in the other place, and it relates to a boy called Taj, his mother, Nicole, and his father, Paul. Taj is 17 years old, and his 18th birthday is in March next year. Taj has an intellectual disability—autism—is largely non-verbal and is of Aboriginal descent. Taj has been at a school in my electorate called the Latrobe Special Developmental School all his educational life. He has been there for 11 years. Taj and his mother and father have decided that it is time for him to move on to an adult educational school, a daily living program for moving him towards independence.

Taj’s mother contacted me because I have worked with people with disability and their parents and this school before, to highlight her very real distress at the fact that when the request was put by her and Taj’s father for Taj to be able to graduate with the five other students that are graduating, who are 18, he was rejected. He was rejected by his teacher. I suggested that he contact the Principal and ask for a rationale and ask for that to be overturned. The Principal came back and said, ‘No, we still do not want him to graduate. He can go to another end-of-year celebration. He can graduate if he comes back and graduates when he was 18 at the end of next year’. Now, we feel—I concur with the mum and dad, and Taj is very, very upset by this—that he deserves the right, after 11 years, to be able to graduate with five other young people and move on to the next phase of his life. They are quite happy for him to not have the same certificate, to have a different set-up but to graduate as a valedictorian. When I asked the parent, she then asked the Principal. The Principal doubled down, and the region sent this:

A key issue is about the perception of inconsistent application of rules and processes at the school.

It goes on to say the final-year focus is about transition. What the parents and I believe is that this is an individual school for individual children with disability. If a young man who has been there for 11 years wants to graduate on a day—and the time has now passed; it was 6 o’clock tonight—at this school, there is a legal reason why he cannot. There is no educational law why he cannot. It is a choice that that school could make. I have asked the Victorian equal opportunity commissioner to intervene, and she was willing to do so. I have asked Taj’s parents what their thoughts are, and they are going to make a commitment. I ask the minister to look at this case and provide reasons why this child was not able to graduate.