Hard calls for Salisbury parents

ADAM ROBERTS
Last updated 13:00 28/11/2012

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Parents of children with complex needs are facing difficult decisions now that Richmond's Salisbury School may be closing.

The school's board is seeking a judicial review of Minister of Education Hekia Parata's decision to close the school, with the case heard in the High Court at Wellington yesterday.

Justice Robert Dobson has reserved his decision.

If the closure goes ahead, one Nelson mother, who did not want to be named, says she may have to home-school her daughter, after moving to Nelson specifically with the school in mind.

Her 12-year-old daughter currently attends a local school. When she was eight she was diagnosed with reactive attachment disorder, oppositional defiance disorder, high-functioning autism and chronic anxiety.

The reactive attachment disorder meant she "pulls you in and pushes you away with extreme behaviour", while her oppositional defiance disorder meant her first reaction was usually "no".

Combined with her autism and anxiety, these disorders meant she had a difficult time at a mainstream school, even though she enjoyed it.

"She's trying as hard as she can all day to be as good as she can. Because of her disability lots of things affect her."

These issues built up over the day, and were often released when she came home, she said.

"When she walks in that door and can literally just throw her bag across the floor and swear and carry on and take her upsets from the day out on the family.

"If someone could teach her just to be able to cope with the day-to-day challenges there would possibly be a future.

"Would you like to be just in your office every day just managing to hold on, just by the skin of your teeth, and then going home and letting loose?"

But she worried that if her daughter stayed in a mainstream school setting as part of a wrap-around service, she would be managed rather than taught such life skills.

"What will happen if we stay in this community? I don't know what school will be able to cope with her."

She was concerned that if her daughter's life skills did not improve, she would never be able to live independently.

But sending her to the co-educational Halswell Residential College was not an option either.

She did not feel comfortable sending her to a co-educational school, and would worry that it would be unsafe.

"These children are very, very vulnerable. I don't even let her walk home some days."

Her daughter had trouble interpreting sensory input, so even the sound of wind could cause her to panic, she said.

"I wouldn't want to send her to an earthquake zone. If it rains heavily she thinks it's going to thunder and lightning and hail. She starts to totally freak out."

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Instead, she would continue to try to work with staff at the school, who were "absolutely fantastic" and were trying their best. Her last resort would be to take her out of school, but she worried this would not help her in the long-term.

"I'm a mother not a teacher."

Salisbury School would have given the family the chance to get their sanity back, she said.

Closing the school was a "horrendous" decision, far worse than the threatened changes to technology funding, widely protested following this year's Budget and eventually cancelled by the Government.

"I think they need more of these schools. I don't know why they need to close them."

Meanwhile, schools are concerned that students who would have otherwise gone to Salisbury will struggle in mainstream education.

Nelson College for Girls principal Cathy Ewing said she was worried for the loss of the school, but would always work to cater to students no matter their needs.

"Salisbury was doing a wonderful job providing support for those young women.

"Any school has a responsibility to ensure that for every student they try and cater for their needs."

The problem was that her school was not specifically resourced for those students.

"When you have a larger group of students with maybe similar needs the resource may not stretch that far.

"We have to find our own way through, making sure we're able to meet those needs."

Waimea Intermediate principal Cleve Shearer said he had seen students leave his school and go to Salisbury, and had heard many had made a positive difference at the school.

"For some students, that school is an ideal way of catering to their needs."

It would be difficult for wrap-around services to deliver a consistent level of care to all students, he said.

Schools were not able to provide the 24/7 coverage that residential schools could, he said.

"For some kids, I don't think it's enough."

- The Nelson Mail

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