People power: Natalie Thomas, with son Will, said her petition had been signed from as far away as the United Kingdom and United States. Picture: Max Mason HubersMOTHER of five Natalie Thomas is investigating distance education forher son Will, after she was told he may not be able to stay in thespecial education unit that he has attended for a year.
Ms Thomas already has more than 270signatures on a petitioncallingon the state government to provide funding forTomaree High to establish a second emotional disorders classwithin itsspecial education unit.
“Will has only recently been diagnosed with bipolar disorder and has struggled throughhis entire school life,” Ms Thomas said.
“He has been suspended multiple times for non-compliance and consistent defianceand can’t cope in a mainstream environment.
“He can be quite aggressive when low, but his manic highs can be just as bad. He can be impulsive and has climbed onto the school roof and on top of a bus shelter.”
Will, 14, is in year eight and has attended the special education unitfor short periods of time since he was in year five.
He has been attending the unitfull-time –despite not having a formal placement –for about a year and has attended the emotional disorders class since the start of this year.
The class hassixpermanent students.
“It’s made him more willing to go to school and he is more relaxed,” Ms Thomas said.
“He does not process group instructions well and this class is more one-on-one.”
Ms Thomas said the schoolmade a formal application for Will to be given a permanent place in the class after he received hisdiagnosis earlier this year, in line with the required protocol.
She said the department told the schoolthere was no room.
A Department of Education spokesperson said Will had been supported through an “extra numerary place in a special education class on the understanding that if another student with greater needs receives a formal placement, other arrangements may need to be made”.
“The school and family are working to establish the most appropriate long-term support for the student.”
But Ms Thomas said she was told at a meeting at the school this week that her only current options were distance education, or sending Will to a Newcastle school that could cater for his needs.
She said she and the school hopethese will be temporary measures and he can return to Tomaree.
Ms Thomas has decided against Will taking public transport to Newcastle, saying itwas a “big gamble” given his impulsiveness and difficulty transitioning into new environments.
“When I told Will he was very upset and disappointed,” she said.
“He blamed himself and his behaviour, it took some time to explain he had not done anything wrong.
“This school is one of the few places he feels comfortable, it’s his social outlet.
“We’re not only taking away his educational opportunities,but his social interaction.”
Ms Thomas said another fivestudents also needed a place in the emotional disorders class, but had been split between the special education unit’s other five classes for different types and levels of disability.
The department spokesperson said students with disabilities receive appropriate support, “no matter which public school they attend, and support is also arranged for the families of those taught at home”.