Parents win 'fight' to get daughter into Salisbury School
Grace Tobin, 14, had a big smile when she headed into her first class at Salisbury School on Thursday.
With a cheery "bye Mum, bye Dad," she was walked to the classroom.
For mum and dad, Ramaria and Nick Tobin, of Cheviot, it was heart-warming moment and the culmination of what they say has been a battle to get Grace into the school.
"We knew it was still open, we wanted it and we fought for it," Nick said.
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Grace, one of six siblings, has autism, epilepsy and is intellectually disabled. Over the years, she's been in mainstream schooling, special needs schools, satellite units and been homeschooled.
At times, it's been a struggle for the family with Grace who, her parents say, has no understanding of danger. In October 2014, she left the family's rural home one evening and was missing for 1½ hours.
"It was dark," Nick said. "My boss got a phone call from these houses on the main road [State Highway 1] saying there's a child there, they don't know who she is. Her pants were ripped, blood on her hands."
Ramaria said Grace had climbed fences during her journey and had no shoes on.
"They thought she'd been in a car crash because she was all grubby and she had all these rips all over her clothes."
Nick spent $400 on locks the next day.
There were other concerns such as Grace getting up in the night and standing over her parents' bed.
The couple sought help.
"I told them ... I was scared that one night she might come in and hurt us," Nick said.
Ramaria said Grace was accepted into the Education Ministry's Intensive Wraparound Service (IWS) in early 2016, which was a welcome surprise.
On the ministry's website, it says the IWS is for "the small number of students" who have behaviour, social and/or learning needs that are highly complex and challenging and require support.
It is a requirement to be accepted into the IWS before students are eligible to enrol at Salisbury.
Nick said the main reason they wanted Grace accepted was so she could attend a residential school.
"When we got it, we thought our life's going to change now, we've got the best organisation to help us and we're going to get residential, we're going to get relief."
Ramaria said the family hoped the 24/7 environment of Salisbury would help Grace learn to be less dependent on her mother.
"Not that we don't love her and we wouldn't look after her but I have a feeling if we don't get the help now and get her independent and get her to the point where she could live in a shared sort of house or something that it will never happen."
Ramaria had seen Salisbury on the Attitude TV programme 3½ years ago. She asked if Grace could attend.
"I really feel like we were misled ... because we were told it was going to be closed last year. We believed it when they said that. We could have had this last year."
Ramaria said the couple believed the single-sex school option of Salisbury was the right choice even though it was under threat of closure and Grace's stay could be short.
In Lower Hutt, Naenae College deputy principal Nic Richards said he also believed Salisbury was the right choice for a "particularly vulnerable girl with intellectual impairment" who was at his school last year.
"Co-ed would have been inappropriate," Richards said.
He worked with the school's special education needs co-ordinator and guidance counsellor, with input from Child Youth and Family and police for a year on the student's behalf.
"At the end of it all, we were told she didn't meet the criteria as she wasn't severe enough."
Richards said he was "stunned and horrified" by the decision.
"If she doesn't get a placement, I don't know who does."
The girl was now being managed in alternative education and had been moved into a family group home, Richards said.
"This child is in a very compromised position now."
He had concerns about the long-term prospects for students not given support.
"It really felt like the ministry was a gatekeeper trying to stop this student from getting into Salisbury and getting the education and support she needs," he said. "The system is essentially abandoning these kids who are in desperate need."
Salisbury School board of trustees chairman John Kane said the Ministry of Education's "duplicity" over Salisbury was unacceptable.
"We're told by the ministry it is being completely open minded about Salisbury's future and it is promoting Salisbury when in fact we are hearing the opposite from families," he said."We want to hear from others who have been told that Salisbury is not an option."
Education Minister Hekia Parata said it was not true families were being discouraged from considering Salisbury School.
"The Intensive Wraparound Service is still referring students to Salisbury School and the school is still accepting enrolments."