Wednesday, November 8, 2023

Permission to Learn from Home

An Australian case determined that it's discriminatory to force kids to attend school if doing so could be harmful to the student or family members. 

From CovidSafeEdAus

"Victory! Our appeal to make schools safe and against disability discrimination by the NSW Department of Education has been successful! It's the first time the Disability Discrimination Act has been applied to 'Pandemic Leave'. Thank you to all of our supporters."

Here's the case:

"Fiona [a pseudonym] lives with type 1 diabetes which puts her at elevated risk should she contract Covid-19. Her son attended a NSW primary school during 2020-2021. When schools returned to the classroom, she applied for leave to keep her son home to avoid the risk of infection at school. The school refused, and eventually threatened to take Fiona to court if he did not return to school. Fiona claimed that the NSE Department of Education discriminated against her and her son by not allowing 'home learning' even though her doctor provided a letter recommending her son not attend school while the risk of Covid-19 was high.

The claim of disability discrimination was initially dismissed by NCAT (NSW Consumer and Administrative Tribunal). Fiona appealed, and the decision was today overturned by the Appeal Panel.

The Appeal Panel agreed with Fiona's submission that the Principal has a discretion to grant leave for any reason and the refusal to do so was discriminatory, particularly when the same Principal had granted leave to a child whose parent was undergoing chemotherapy. Fiona argued that:

a. Whether the student was able to attend school or not is irrelevant. The issue is whether they could do so as safely as the child whose parent was not disabled. In this case, medical evidence and opinion was that the Appellant's child was at higher risk of injuring his mother than other children whose mother was not a high risk.

b. Making education available only if the child attended in person, when a viable, safer alternative was available and requested, is analogous to making education available only in classrooms that are not accessible by wheelchair. It would be no answer to a claim that such conduct was discriminatory to say, 'Neither the applicant nor child were denied the benefit of attending school' because children in wheelchairs could look in through a window.

The Appeal Panel agreed. . . . and the Department of Education was ordered to pay SVN $15,000 compensation for hurt, distress, inconvenience and humiliation."

My only concern with the case is that it sets a precedent that allows absences for students who have someone who's high risk in the family. I believe anyone who doesn't want their child to catch a harmful virus in a classroom with poor mitigations in place should be allowed to learn from home. The focus on high risk cases ignores the damage Covid can do to the average person. 

It could be argued that if we let everyone stay home to avoid Covid without being high risk, the classrooms would be empty, but obviously that's not the case. Many people have been placated with misinformation to the point that they accept Covid in their kids, and many others just live in daily agony because they can't stay home with their kids, so they have to allow them to be surrounded with a brain-invasive disease. 

We could just bring back masks in class and allow Corsi-Rosenthal boxes to run and allow windows to be opened a little in order to make classrooms safer for all kids! It feels like accepting crumbs for a few kids to be allowed to avoid the carnage, but I'm glad Fiona was compensated for her troubles. 

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