Nursery school issues apology after treating child with special needs 'less favourably'

Equality Commission
Amelie Cummins' parents took a disability discrimination case on behalf of their daughter against a nursery school in Co Down. Credit: Equality Commission

A nursery school in Co Down has apologised to the parents of a child with special needs after accepting she was treated less favourably due to her disability.

Amelie Cummins' parents took a disability discrimination case on behalf of their daughter against Trinity Nursery School in Bangor.

It was lodged with the Special Educational Needs and Disability Tribunal and was supported by the Equality Commission.

Amelie, who was born with Down's Syndrome, has a statement of special educational needs which provided for her to attend mainstream nursery school with 22.5 hours of classroom support each week.

She started Trinity Nursery School in September 2020 but her family say they were told that Amelie had to start school 15 minutes later each day than all the other children in her class, even though she had a dedicated classroom assistant.

They also say that the school wanted Amelie to finish 15 minutes earlier too, but they refused to accept this and removed her from the nursery school three months later, in December 2020.

Her mother Michelle said they felt they had no option but to remove her.

"Amelie has since had a very positive experience in another nursery school and is currently thriving in primary school," she said.

"We hope that by challenging this behaviour no other disabled child would face a similar situation."

She added that it was important for parents to know "if there is something that they think is not right, raise it, seek advice and contact the Equality Commission and fight for your child if you have to".

The case was settled with Trinity Nursery accepting that they treated Amelie less favourably as a result of her disability and that they failed to make reasonable adjustments for her.

The school has also apologised to Amelie and her parents for any upset caused.

Mary Kitson, senior legal officer, Equality Commission for Northern Ireland, said it is unacceptable that any pupil would be treated less favourably because of their disability.

"Amelie's parents wanted her to have the same educational experience as all the other children but felt that they were met with barriers because of her disability," she said.

"All children must be provided with opportunities to flourish at school, regardless of whether or not they have a disability.

"We welcome, as part of the settlement terms, Trinity Nursery School's agreement to work with the Commission in respect of its duties under the disability discrimination legislation and good practice in education."

In a statement a spokesperson for Trinity Nursery School in Bangor said: "Whilst we cannot comment on individual pupils, as a school we will take on board all learning from the case and are firmly committed to the principle of equality of opportunity for all disabled pupils. "We will also work with the Equality Commission in ensuring that all of our policies, practices and procedures conform in all respects with national equality legislation in relation to Disability Discrimination in education, as well as best practice," the statement added.

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