Schools have legal duty to enrol students with disabilities

Schools have a legal duty under the Education Act and the Human Rights Act to enrol students who have special education needs whether because of a disability or otherwise on the same basis as other students.

The Commission says the interpretation of the Human Rights Act as reported in the story “Schools can refuse to enrol disabled students” published in the Christchurch Press yesterday is incorrect.

The incorrect interpretation neglected to note that refusal by a state school to enrol a student because they are disabled would be potentially unlawful under the general (Part 1A) provisions of the Human Rights Act that require the public sector to uphold the right of individuals to be free from discrimination.

The right to enrol in a school is defined by the Education Act. Sections 3 and 8 of the Education Act state that: “People who have special educational needs (whether because of disability or otherwise) have the same rights to enrol and receive education at State schools as people who do not.”

Schools cannot refuse to enrol students because of their disability.

Disability Rights Commissioner Paul Gibson said he was dismayed to read the story. “Students with a disability have the same right to education as anyone else. The truth is the Human Rights Act is specifically there to provide protection against discrimination, including discrimination against people with a disability.”

Mr Gibson said the media have a responsibility to ensure the accuracy of their reports. “This is a particularly sensitive issue for many families and the story could well have caused much unnecessary anxiety.”

He said there were many schools, with inspirational leadership and willing and capable teachers and staff, where students with the most complex needs were welcome and learnt to their full potential.

Mr Gibson said if a school has refused to enrol a student because of disability, the family should contact the Ministry of Education or the Human Rights Commission’s Enquiries and Complaints Service at freephone 0800 496 877.

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