A young family has settled a disability discrimination case securing changes at The Lakes Christian College in Sydney that will allow children on the autism spectrum and living with disabilities to thrive.

Catherine is a bright and bubbly girl who happens to have been diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. In 2019, when Catherine was just seven years old, she was suspended, banned from the school bus and then expelled from school. Catherine was distraught.

With the support of expert discrimination lawyers from the Public Interest Advocacy Centre, Catherine’s family argued that she needed a range of particular types of support in class because of her disability but that the school had failed to provide them.

“Without those supports it was like she was in a wheelchair and the school looked at her and asked her to go down a flight of stairs,” says Hannah, Catherine’s mum.

The expulsion was deeply traumatic for Catherine and her family. When Hannah talks about the day she got the call she remembers a terrible pain in her stomach, because she knew the family would feel the impact of it for a long time.

When Hannah made a complaint to the Australian Human Rights Commission regarding disability discrimination, The Lakes Christian College refused to show up.  At that point Hannah either had to give up the case, or somehow find the money to get the case to the Federal Circuit Court to force the school to respond to the complaint.

“Unfortunately, we see situations like this too often in Australia where people with legitimate human rights complaints are unable to take the legal action they are entitled to because the financial risk is simply too high,” says Isabelle Reinecke, founder and Executive Director at Grata Fund, a partner of UNSW Law. “The Grata Community is so pleased to have been able to support Catherine and her mum Hannah get their case to the Federal Circuit Court.”

With the financial backing of the Grata Community, Hannah was able to continue with the case. The Lakes Christian College ultimately agreed to disability awareness training and a comprehensive review of its behaviour management policy to reflect best practices in educating students with disabilities.

“We ran this case because we wanted to highlight the challenges that children on the spectrum can face at school,” Hannah says. “We want all kids to have the chance to win at education. This success is a really humbling moment and something we will be forever grateful for. We couldn't have done it without the Grata Community standing behind us.”

“It takes a village to raise a child and it takes an even bigger village to make a change like this,” she notes.

Find out more about Grata’s work at www.gratafund.org.au