A Flemish court last week upheld a complaint by the parents of a handicapped child who was turned away from his primary school in Antwerp Province despite legislation in Flanders on inclusive education. The child, Maxim, has Down Syndrome. He had been going to the school from kindergarden but was excluded in Primary Grade II because none of the teachers agreed to teach him after the school’s management refused their requests for reasonable adjustments covered by Flemish law.
The parents had then been asked to try to get their son into a specialised school. However, with the support of UNIA, an independent public institution that combats discrimination and promotes equal opportunities, they filed a complaint against the school.
The court has now upheld their complaint, ruling last week that the school had not shown how the adjustments requested by Maxim’s parents were unreasonable nor had it tried to see what adjustments could be made for him. The school focussed excessively on the problems of parents and not enough on the child’s interest and rights, it found.
“This ruling is unprecedented,” said UNIA Director Patrick Charlier. “It’s the first time that a judge has said clearly that a school cannot decide unilaterally to refuse a child in a handicapped situation,” he noted.
“This is an important reminder since this type of situation is common today,” Charlier stressed. “According to a study, parents of children in situations of handicap need to contact five schools on average before finding one that agrees to register their child. Some parents contact up to 19 schools.”