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39 HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH | AUGUST 2015 Autism experts told Human Rights Watch that “highly functioning” children with autism, such as children with Asperger’s Syndrome, currently do not receive adequate support in mainstream schools but could be accommodated with the right level of support and dedicated attention to avoid them being left unaccompanied, which increases the risk of bullying and anxiety. 155 Children with physical disabilities also face exclusion in mainstream schools.156 Edward Ndopu, an activist with skeletal muscular atrophy, who studied in mainstream schools, told Human Rights Watch that “schools are complicit in [the] exclusion. There isn’t really a culture of accessibility institutionalized in the school because we have to make it work.” Being the only learner in a wheelchair requiring special assistance in a mainstream environment meant that he “was there but operating on someone else’s standards.”157 Special Schools Although the Schools Act prohibits schools from using assessments to prevent a student enrolling,158 Human Rights Watch was regularly told that some special schools carry out their own assessments prior to admitting children conditionally.159 Human Rights Watch read email exchanges between the father of a 10-year-old boy with autism and a special school and resource center that caters to children with intellectual disabilities.
155 Human Rights Watch interview with Robyn Beere, director, Inclusive Education South Africa, Cape Town, October 2014;
Human Rights Watch interview with Naomi Crous, Children’s DisABILITY Training Centre, Johannesburg, October 2014.
156 The government reported that 4,004 children with physical disabilities were enrolled in special schools in 2012, while 4616 were enrolled in ordinary schools, Department of Social Development, “Draft First Periodic Country Report on the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UN CRPD),” Notice 445 of 2015, May 18, 2015, pp. 36-37.
157 Human Rights Watch interview with Edward Ndopu, youth coordinator, Amnesty International, Johannesburg, November 2014.
158 South Africa’s Schools Act prohibits public schools from administering any test related to the admission of a learner to a public school, ch. 2, s. 5(2).
159 Campaign to Promote the Right to Education of Children with Disabilities, “Factsheet 6: Systemic barriers to inclusive education.” A representative of Inclusive Education South Africa, an NGO that provides support to parents seeking placements for children with disabilities, told Human Rights Watch that the practice of granting conditional placements based on assessments is very common.
160 Human Rights Watch telephone interview with Caroline Taylor, client support liaison and information, Inclusive Education South Africa, November 2014.
“COMPLICIT IN EXCLUSION” 40 for two years. School officials informed the father that his son could join the school for a six-month observation period, but did not guarantee him a full-time place in the school.161 Children with autism spectrum disorder are most often misplaced or excluded from schools due to misunderstanding regarding their needs and behaviors.162 Despite rising numbers of children diagnosed with autism in South Africa every year,163 the government reported in 2012 that only 2,753 such children were enrolled in special schools, and 1,209 enrolled in mainstream schools.164 Nerina Nel, from the Children’s DisABILITY Training Centre, a nongovernmental organization focused on building capacity of teachers working with children with autism spectrum disorder, told Human Rights Watch: “It is typical that special schools don’t take children with autism or they’re kicked out. A child gets a place, but a week later, parents are called back and asked to take the child back.”165 Lebohang, a 13-year-old boy with autism was given little choice but to leave his special
school. His mother told Human Rights Watch:
The principal asked me to choose between leaving him in the [special] school and pay for whatever he had damaged at school or take him out. I don’t work so I can’t pay for things, so I took him out. In the school they didn’t know about autism. Now the school says they don’t want autistic children. They made an example out of him.166 161 Human Rights Watch telephone interview with the father of a 10-year-old boy with autism, Cape Town, October 2014;
Emails on file with Human Rights Watch shared on November 11, 2014 and December 12, 2014.
162 Human Rights Watch interview with Nerina Nel, director, Children’s DisABILITY Training Centre, Johannesburg, October 2014; Human Rights Watch interview with Sandra Klooper, director, Autism South Africa, Johannesburg, October 2014; Sasha Wales Smith, “Autistic children struggle to get an education,” Health E-News, The South African Health News Service, August 23, 2010, http://www.health-e.org.za/2010/08/23/autistic-children-struggle-to-get-and-education/ (accessed June 10, 2015).
163 In 2012, Autism South Africa estimated that 7,665 children with autism will be born in South Africa every year. Autism South Africa, “Introduction to Autism and the Core Impairments,” undated, http://www.dsd.gov.za/index.php?option=com_docman&task=doc_download&gid=242&Itemid=39 (accessed June 11, 2015).
164 Department of Social Development, “Draft First Periodic Country Report on the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UN CRPD),” Notice 445 of 2015, May 18. 2015, pp. 36-37.
165 Human Rights Watch interview with Nerina Nel, director, Children’s DisABILITY Training Centre, Johannesburg, October 2014.
166 Human Rights Watch interview with the mother of a 13-year-old boy with autism, Johannesburg, October 2014.
41 HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH | AUGUST 2015 Similarly, while the government has officially acknowledged the major challenges experienced by incontinent children when accessing education,167 children who cannot use or access toilets independently, or those who use diapers, often face very significant, discriminatory, barriers when accessing special schools.168 One principal told Human Rights Watch that her special school cannot take students with toilet needs because they cannot provide teachers or assistants to handle them.169 Such decisions and limitations at a school level left children like Lesley, a 10-year-old boy with spina bifida and whose legs are paralyzed, out of school for over three years. Lesley was turned down by four out of nine special schools because of his toilet requirements.170 Waiting Lists The government’s admissions policy states that a referral of a learner with special needs “should be handled as a matter of urgency to facilitate the admission of a learner as soon as possible to ensure that the learner is not prejudiced in receiving appropriate education.”171 In 2015, the government estimated that 5,552 learners with disabilities were on waiting lists.172 Evidence gathered by Human Rights Watch suggests that a lack of governmental oversight of waiting lists and placements leaves schools with the last word on enrolling students, further delaying children’s entry into schools beyond the age of compulsory enrollment.
Human Rights Watch met 21 children of varying ages and disabilities who were not in school, but waiting for a placement in a special school. Long waiting lists mean that admission can be delayed year after year. “They showed me three [registration] books full of names and said there are really no chances; but they asked me to go back in January,” 167 Department of Women, Children and People with Disabilities, “Baseline Country Report to the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities,” (2008-2012), 2013, para. 240.
168 Human Rights Watch focus group discussion hosted by the Disabled Children Action Group Western Cape, testimony from mother of an 8-year-old blind girl in Cape Town and the mother of a 10-year-old girl with cerebral palsy, Cape Town, October 2014.
169 Human Rights Watch interview with Karin Swarz, principal, Prinshof School for the Blind and Visually Impaired, Pretoria, October 2014.
170 Human Rights Watch interview with Maria Mashimbaye, the mother of a 10-year-old with spina bifida, Johannesburg, October 2014.
171 Department of Education, “Admission Policy for Ordinary Public Schools,” para. 24.
172 Department of Basic Education, “Report on the Implementation of Education White Paper 6 on Inclusive Education, An Overview for the Period: 2013-2015,” May 2015, p. 22.
Nonkululeko, mother of Nkosiyazi, a 12-year-old boy with cerebral palsy, who is waiting for a referral to a special school, said she had “given up” trying. “Therapists, doctors called the school,” she said. “They said he’s on a waiting list and when I go to ask [the school] they say it’s full. 2013, 2014. They [doctors] never talk about it anymore.” Her son has repeated Grade 3 three times at the district’s only full-service school.174 Government policy on admissions states that students can only be removed from an attendance list once a transfer to another school has come into effect.175 Matilda described what happened after a special school told her it would accept her daughter, a 10-year-old with an intellectual disability and epilepsy, who has been out of school for over two years.
I had bought the school uniform and everything. Then they told me my daughter had to wait. When I went to re-register her in the full-service school she was in originally, they said that she was already registered in the special school and they couldn’t take her back.176 Nongovernmental representatives told Human Rights Watch that it is hard for NGOs to get up-to-date or transparent information from many special schools.177 “Schools duck and dive when you ask them for the waiting list,” Mary Moeketsi, an autism expert, said.
“Some don’t want to show it.”178 173 Human Rights Watch interview with the mother of a 7-year-old with speech and physical disabilities, Mahlungulu, KwaZulu-Natal, November 2014.
174 Human Rights Watch interview with the mother of a 12-year-old boy with cerebral palsy, Kwa-Ngwanase (Manguzi), KwaZulu-Natal, November 2014.
175 The Department of Basic Education’s “Admission Policy for Ordinary Public Schools” states that schools can remove a learner from a school’s admission register when the learner “applies for a transfer to another school and the transfer is effected.” para. 12 (b).
176 Human Rights Watch interview with the mother of a 10-year-old with an intellectual disability and epilepsy, KwaNgwanase (Manguzi), Kwazulu-Natal, November 2014.
177 Human Rights Watch focus group discussion with members of the Campaign to Promote the Right to Education for Children with Disabilities, Cape Town, October 2014; Campaign to Promote the Right to Education for Children with Disabilities, “Factsheet 6: Systemic Barriers to Inclusive Education” (2011).
178 Human Rights Watch interview with Mary Moeketsi, Autism South Africa Limpopo, Johannesburg, October 2014.
43 HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH | AUGUST 2015 Jean Elphick, program manager at Afrika Tikkun, an NGO providing assistance and empowerment programs for mothers of children with disabilities, said that some waiting lists in special schools around Johannesburg are 200 to 400 students long.179 Two special centers and special school managers or principals told Human Rights Watch they no longer tell parents there is a waiting list. If they have reached maximum intake capacity, they ensure parents turn to other centers to seek placements for their children.180 Marie Schoeman, chief education specialist at the government’s inclusive education unit, believes the new “Screening, Identification, Assessment and Support” policy, published in December 2014, would help to alleviate delays in placements and waiting lists by ensuring young children go through an adequate screening to assess the most adequate learning environment for them.181 179 For example, six out of the 32 schools contacted by Afrika Tikkun in 2014 had some spaces. Program data shared with Human Rights Watch showed that schools replied: “full, try again next year,” “space for hearing impairments only,” “spaces in some classes” “girls without nappies.” Human Rights Watch interview with Jean Elphick, program manager, Afrika Tikkun, Johannesburg, October 2014.
180 Human Rights Watch interview with Fatima Shaboodien, director, De Heide Centre, Cape Town, October 2014.
181 Human Rights Watch interview with Marie Schoeman, chief education specialist, Department of Basic Education, Pretoria, November 2014.
It is about tackling the fundamental issues: not just things that need improvement. We come up with a complete lack of [basic] implementation.
—Commissioner Lindiwe Mokate, South African Human Rights Commission, February 2015 Children with disabilities also face discrimination due to a lack of support in their schools.
This also includes a lack of appropriate learning materials and subjects.
Evidence gathered by Human Rights Watch and nongovernmental organizations working with children with disabilities, as well as investigations carried out by the South African Human Rights Commission, suggest the government has not provided sufficient reasonable accommodation—or support—to ensure children with disabilities can access education on an equal basis as other children.