A private school for children with autism is being investigated after allegations a boy at the school was being held unsupervised in a lockable fenced structure he called a “cage”.
Officials from the NSW Board of Studies Teaching and Educational Standards body visited the ASPECT Macarthur School on Sydney’s western fringe and interviewed the parent of the child yesterday after 7.30 notified Minister Adrian Piccoli’s office of the complaint over the weekend.
The boy, Toby Jordan, now 13, has autism and a moderate intellectual disability and was sent to the lockable structure with a high fence, which the school referred to as the “top playground” when his behaviour escalated and he had “meltdowns” at school.
“The ‘top playground’, it’s not a playground,” Toby’s mother, Lynda Jordan told 7.30.
“It has an unused boarded up cubby house in it and the children themselves don’t call it the top playground – Toby called it the cage.”
‘They failed Toby’
Ms Jordan, who now does distance education with the boy, said she had no idea Toby was being sent to the “top playground” until she arrived at the school one day unannounced.
“I’d come down that road and heard that someone was screaming and pulled over to the side of the road and witnessed them bringing Toby out of the main playground gate,” she said.
“They had him slightly elevated from the ground and both had hold of his arms and his wrists, had them turned back.
“As they escorted him through a gate outside of the school, opened the gate to the lockable structure, pushed him in there, shut the lockable structure, turned around, and walked away.
“(Toby) was kicking, screaming, and fighting – he was hysterical.”
Toby saw his mother showing the photographs of the “top playground” to 7.30 and also volunteered that the teachers walked away from him after leaving him in there.
“I was trying to climb over there, (trying to get out). It’s hard to get out because see how high the fence is?” Toby said, pointing to the photograph.
When asked how it made him feel being in the top playground, he said he felt “sad” and he never wanted to go back to the school.
When Ms Jordan later applied through a solicitor for the school’s records, she said she discovered Toby had regularly been sent to the “top playground” when his behaviour was considered unmanageable.
But she said she had never approved this strategy and if she’d been asked, she would have said no.
She found a behaviour management plan, drawn up by the school, which did not bear her signature – she supplied this document and others to 7.30 showing regular use by some teachers of the “top playground”.
“It’s traumatic. He’s still traumatised,” a tearful Ms Jordan said.
“He trusted them… we sent him to school every day and said ‘the teachers know the right thing to do, listen to the teachers’, you know, we trusted them, we told him to trust them, and they weren’t trustworthy.
“They failed. They failed Toby.”
School carried out its own investigation
ASPECT’s national director Dr Trevor Clark disputed Ms Jordan’s version of events, saying she had agreed to the plan, that Toby Jordan had never been left alone, and the lockable structure was simply a playground that was still in use.
“No teacher leaves a child with autism unsupervised no matter what situation within a school or within a community and the reason for that is we have got a duty of care to our children – it was exercised at the time, it is very unfortunate that there was a different view about where staff were,” Dr Clark told 7.30.