When you hear about a teenage girl getting kicked out of school you'd probably think that she'd trashed the principal's office or repeatedly dealt drugs out of her locker. At the very least she'd have tagged the toilet block.
But this wasn't the case for 16-year-old British girl Lottie Twiselton who has allegedly been excluded from her school because she's recovering from anorexia.
After being discharged from hospital, Lottie had hoped to return to Northampton High School on a part-time basis until she fully regained her strength. But her school administration said she wasn't welcome to return until she had made a full recovery.
Lottie, who had attended the school since she was three years old, told London's Mirror newspaper, "I felt abandoned. Nobody can understand how important the return to school is when you're in recovery."
Her father Robert Twiselton was scathing of the school's decision saying, "People suffering from anorexia are encouraged to work towards a goal and Lottie was working towards getting back to school to be with her friends. This was taken away from her."
Lottie's mother Claire Twiselton says that Lottie was banned from returning because the school feared her daughter would be a bad influence on her peers and inspire copycat eating disorders.
"I think they were worried that Lottie's behaviour... may have resulted in other girls wanting to follow that path - clearly not understanding that anorexia isn't a decision," she told BBC Radio 5 Live's Victoria Derbyshire.
A statement issued by the school and reported in the Daily Mail denies that Lottie was excluded because of her eating disorder.
"The health and wellbeing of our pupils is at the heart of everything we do... The professional view of the head and her team was that an interrupted part-time programme in a crucial year would not be in the interests of Lottie's welfare or education."
Not surprisingly, the Twiselton family is not buying the school's concern about the continuity of Lottie's studies as the reason for excluding her. If returning to school is deemed to be helpful for Lottie's recovery by her carers, then you'd think the school would be supportive - especially a school that claims to be interested in Lottie's welfare.
Sarah McMahon, psychologist and Director of BodyMatters Australasia says that the actions of the school could be damaging to Lottie's recovery, especially if her treatment team have deemed her well enough to return to school.
At the same time, McMahon acknowledges that the school is in a very difficult position in terms of duty of care.
"The role of the school is primarily education and not treatment. It's really important to make that distinction clear,' says McMahon. 'Sometimes families get confused about the distinction and think that the school will provide supervision of lunchtime meals for example."
But it's hard to imagine the school taking the same approach for students who have a physical illness or injury instead of a mental one - such as kids going through chemotherapy, or those suffering chronic fatigue, or are seriously injured and require on-going rehabilitation.
Would those students be kicked out for only being able to attend part-time? And what about students who miss large chunks of the term because they go on extended holidays with their parents or tag along on a business trip? Why aren't they excluded too?
Sarah Spence, National Manager Communications from the Butterfly Foundation says that schools should be aware of copycat behaviour for eating disorders, but simply dismissing a student recovering from anorexia isn't the best approach.
"It is a very real and legitimate concern that schools may have around thinspiration, particularly from thinspo websites and other social media. It's constantly in our culture and it's what young people are looking at and reading. But that concern needs to be addressed in the appropriate way," Spence said.
"Eating disorders are a really complex mental illness and something that schools need to treat carefully and with a lot of sympathy - not only for the person going through it, but also for the family and loved ones as well."
"Schools should seek a lot of guidance before they make sweeping decisions like what has happened at this school."
To avoid situations like this, psychologist Sarah McMahon says it's important that schools think carefully about their policy for students returning to school with illnesses such as anorexia.
"Schools need to make their policy clear to the treatment team and the family before the student reaches the expectation that they can return to school before they are well enough to do so," she said.
Kasey Edwards is a best-selling author and writer. www.kaseyedwards.com
- Daily Life
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