Schools warned over how they handle mental health problems
SCHOOLS in the county have been warned over the way they handle pupils with mental health problems after a court found that Suffolk County Council discriminated against a boy with a ‘school phobia’.
At the end of last year, the Special Educational Needs and Disability Tribunal found that the county council and the governing body of the east Suffolk secondary school unlawfully discriminated against the boy, now 16, on four separate claims.
It followed an unsuccessful prosecution by the county council and the school against the boy’s parents for failing to ensure their son attended school regularly. The boy and the school involved cannot be identified for legal reasons.
Following the tribunal decision, the county council and school appealed against two of the four claims of discrimination which related to the prosecution against the boy’s parents.
But, despite the school winning its appeal, the tribunal judge rejected the council’s.
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In his judgement, Upper Tribunal Judge Ward blasted the authority, saying it “proceeded obdurately” with the prosecution against the boy’s parents - despite being provided with medical evidence from the youngster’s GP and a child psychologist showing that he was suffering from mental health problems which affected his attendance at school.
Judge Ward said the council “closed its mind” by continuing with the prosecution.
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Last night, the boy’s father, who can’t be identified, told the EADT: “This decision means that after all the heartache we have gone through, it might change the county council and the schools and the way that people like our son are dealt with from now on.
“Hopefully the council will have been shaken up so that it will not keep prosecuting parents of children with these sorts of disabilities.
“We have a son who needed help and all they could do was go through their silly procedures and instead of giving us help they made our lives very difficult.”
Judge Ward also warned that this case should cause the council to “revisit its approach to such prosecutions” and said that schools in similar situations in the future should “carefully consider” how it deals with such cases.
As a result of the appeal decision, the judge has ordered that Suffolk County Council send written apologies to the boy and his parents by June 18 which are to be signed by Eddy Alcock, the chairman of the council.
Despite winning this appeal, which found that the school could not have influenced the council to stop the prosecution, the school did not appeal against the earlier tribunal decision which found that it unlawfully discriminated against the boy by failing to make reasonable adjustments to his education.
As a result of this, the governing body of the school must also ensure that written apologies are sent to the youngster and his parents by June 18.
A spokesman for Suffolk County Council said: “Naturally the council was disappointed not to be successful in the appeal in this case. We have accepted the outcome of the Tribunal and will comply with its decision.”
THE boy involved developed chronic anxiety following time-off due to a viral illness when he first joined the secondary school.
He was diagnosed by a clinical psycholgist as suffering from a school phobia.
His parents always maintained that the school and the county council failed to offer their son the support that he needed because they never understood his mental health problems.
In June last year, the council took the parents to court for failing to ensure their son attended school reguarly.
If found guilty, they could have been sent to prison for three months and fined up to �2,500.
The council continued with the prosecution despite the child psychologist, to whom the boy was referred, saying it was worsening his mental health.
Despite this, and the fact that the couple have other children who successfully attended the same school, the decision was taken to prosecute the parents.
But following a one-day trial at South East Suffolk Magistrates’ Court in Ipswich, the parents were found not guilty.
At the same time, they took the council and school to the Special Educational Needs and Disability Tribunal for unlawfully discriminating against their son’s mental health by failing to make reasonable adjustments to the way in which he attends school.