10-year-old girl forced to cower in bin to avoid bullies

A 10-year-old girl with Asperger's was hit across the head, pushed from a pier and ended up hiding in a rubbish bin to escape harsh taunting by classmates, the disability royal commission has heard.

Counsel assisting Kerri Mellifont says some disabled students are subject to violence and bullying so severe they are forced to withdraw from the mainstream school system.

Dr Mellifont read submissions to the hearing as it began in Townsville on Monday that spoke of students being harassed by classmates and left out of activities by educators.

Students who are unable to curb their behaviour are being excluded from school, with one boy aged six suspended six times in six months for behavioural issues, she said.

One girl called Charlotte recently withdrew from a private school because bullying became so severe she had stopped attending.

"Her parents felt they had no choice but to remove her after incidents that included her being pushed off a pier and hiding in a garbage bin to escape taunting," Dr Mellifont told the commission on Monday.

Dr Kerri Mellifont addresses the Townsville hearing at the Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of People with Disability. Picture: AAP
Dr Kerri Mellifont addresses the Townsville hearing at the Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of People with Disability. Picture: AAP

In a separate incident, Charlotte was taken to the hospital after being hit across the head. Her injuries included black eyes.

The school put an individual education plan in place that was inadequate and only exacerbated her anxiety, the hearing was told.

"We've had such a horrible journey. It's almost like because Charlotte's different, she's viewed as less," Charlotte's mother's submission says. The commission was told of other parents fearing for their children's safety and the lack of inclusion making the "agonising decision" to remove them from school.


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One mother, whose 13-year-old daughter has Down syndrome, broke down at times as she told the commission that every day of school was difficult. "I just don't remember getting through a week where I wasn't asked to provide a resource or fix a problem at the school," she said.

In year two, she removed her daughter from a school after just three weeks to escape a teacher who yelled and abused her in class.

The girl was "petrified", forced to sit on a bath mat and physically dragged down flights of stairs when she couldn't keep up with her classmates, the commission heard.

The mother changed schools and, for the first time, her child was treated as "normal".

"For the first time had access to the proper curriculum. She got homework … she participated in everything.

"It was a very normal experience." She said students with disabilities have the right to an education in their community, on the same basis as their peers, with access to the curriculum and appropriate adjustments.

The commission also heard that some teachers feel "overwhelmed" when teaching so-called "diverse learners".

They've not been given skills, training or resources they need and the relationship between schools and families can often be adversarial, the commission was told.

The hearing before Ronald Sackville QC will continue in Townsville over four days this week.