Cate was expelled in year 2. Her parents took the school to court


Catherine Blundy was just seven-years-old when she was suspended, banned from the school bus, and then expelled from her Christian school near Penrith.


Her parents have taken The Lakes Christian College in Castlereagh to court, arguing the school knew Catherine, who was diagnosed with autism aged six, needed particular types of support in class because of her disability but failed to provide them.


Hannah Blundy is taking her daughter Catherine's former school to court, alleging a breach of anti-discrimination laws. Credit: Edwina Pickles


Their lawyer, Chadwick Wong from the Public Interest Advocacy Centre (PIAC), said that support included strategies to help her calm down when she was triggered, such as time-outs and breathing techniques.


"But [her mother] Hannah alleges the school did not implement them, and instead said that Catherine's behaviours were 'tantrums' which she switches on and off," said Mr Wong.


"We are saying that the adjustments she needed were not provided, and we are saying that she was suspended because of her disability, and ultimately expelled because of her disability and a failure to provide those [classroom] adjustments."


PIAC has taken the case to the Federal Circuit Court, alleging a breach of anti-discrimination laws. "We think it has prospects of being broader than for [Catherine] and Hannah," Mr Wong said.


Families and communities are demanding answers as to how three disabled children were all found to be suffering horrific neglect in Queensland this week.


A spokesman for the college said: "There are many factors that are relevant to this situation, however as the matter is currently subject to legal action we are unfortunately unable to provide these specific details.


"As a Christian school we always strive to act in a compassionate and caring manner. We value all children at our school, including those with disability, and work hard to meet their individual needs."


Discipline and suspension of children with a disability have become a major issue in school systems.


NSW Department of Education figures show seven out of 10 suspensions of kindergarten students in the four years to 2019 involved students who needed some kind of adjustment to accommodate their disability.


But there are no similar figures available for private schools, as they are not required to report suspension data. "We know absolutely nothing, and that's a huge problem," said Linda Graham, an education expert at Queensland University of Technology.


"If we don't have transparency, nobody knows it is happening."


Hannah Blundy said Catherine, known to her family as Cate, had attended the college since pre-school, when she was four and a half. The family began the long road to diagnosis when she was five, and tried to work with the school on adjustments that would help.


But an incident - which she cannot describe for legal reasons - led to a suspension, "and that turned into a termination of her enrolment," said Mrs Blundy. "We feel that was not justified.


"It was like they had asked her to walk down stairs when she was in a wheelchair. We think she was asked to access education as a neurotypical child and that's not the case.


"We'd really love to highlight that Cate was seven years old. Termination stays on a child's schooling record. For me, having to fill in another enrolment form, I have to tick that box. This didn't just affect Cate, her sister had to move schools as well."


Mrs Blundy argues parents should have access to information such as staff training in disability, as well as policies and data on suspension and terminations before enrolling their child in a school.


Cate, now eight, is attending a school in the public system. "We've been extremely blessed through the Department of Education, which quickly assessed Cate's needs, and they've been able to get her into a very supportive environment."


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