An investigation is underway after reports that a school locked up an autistic student inside a cage.
ACT Education Minister, Joy Burch, revealed the incident on 2 April, which was also World Autism Awareness Day.
It is understood the incident involved a 10-year-old boy with autism.
The Canberra school’s 2m by 2m “withdrawal space” - made from pool fencing - was exposed following a complaint made to the Australian Human Rights Commission by Children with Disability Australia.
“Whether it [the cage] was in the school for 17 days, 17 minutes or 17 seconds, it had no place there,” Burch told reporters in Canberra.
“Words can’t express the disappointment and horror I have that in our schools anyone would consider a structure of this nature in any way, shape or form acceptable.”
Julie Phillips, manager of the Disability Discrimination Legal Service in Victoria, told SBS that the incident was not an isolated one and that she knows of autistic students who have been “routinely constrained and excluded from other students” in her state.
“I’ve heard and seen photographs of - what are referred to euphemistically – as ‘time out’ rooms, which are simply carpeted or padded empty small rooms where they lock children up in response to challenging behaviours,” Phillips said.
“I’ve had clients whose children have been locked up in dark in small areas bolted from the outside, not knowing how long they would be in there or whether they would get out.”
The school’s principal has been suspended during the investigation and two senior teachers with “expertise” in behaviour management and disability education have been assigned to the school, the ACT Education Department said in a statement.
The name of the school cannot be revealed for privacy reasons.