Omar is a 13 year old student in Year 7 at a public school. He has autism, ADHD, ODD and anxiety, and has a behavioural management plan in place. Due to his disabilities, he often acts out in a silly or joking manner, including swearing, and he often lashes out physically when distressed, which is why his behavioural management plan focuses on ways to calm him down. The school follows a strict discipline policy for anything that is seen as misbehaviour: any student who swears or engages in any physical altercation of any level is automatically suspended for 2 days, and progressively longer suspensions occur for each new breach of behaviour.
Omar experienced increasingly long suspensions throughout year 7 for minor incidents of physical altercation with other students as a result of bullying, firstly for 2 days, then 4 days, then 5 days, culminating in a 20 day suspension for appearing to threaten a teacher. The teacher and other students interpreted this as clowning around rather than a genuine threat and the situation was quickly defused. The incident was not even mentioned by his teacher to his parents until the suspension occurred some days later. His mother repeatedly requested that the discipline and suspension policy be amended to take into account Omar’s tendency to act out inappropriately, and institute alternative forms of discipline in accordance with his behavioural management plan, such as detention or similar. The School did not do so, and after the last long suspension, Omar was again found to be misbehaving and was threatened with expulsion.
ACDL wrote a letter of advice to Omar’s mother on the prospects of success of a claim of disability discrimination, noting that there was a strong case of indirect discrimination in the School’s treatment of Omar’s in relation to the discipline policy, in that he could not comply with the discipline policy because of his disabilities, and the School had failed to make reasonable adjustments which would accommodate his disabilities despite repeated requests. ACDL explained the process and options for making a discrimination complaint, as well as providing referrals for assistance with challenging the procedural decision to expel him on other grounds. Omar’s mother said that she found the advice very helpful and allowed her to consider all her options clearly.