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Classroom Cage Used on Boy With Autism Sparks National Special Needs Debate

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A school principal in Canberra, Australia has been fired for allocating school funds to build a classroom cage for a 10-year-old boy with autism.

The six and a half by six and a half foot fenced in structure cost $5,195 and was built for one child in particular, who remains unidentified to protect his privacy, ABC News reported. The structure stood for less than a month before the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) Education and Training Directorate ordered it to be dismantled in March. It was intended as a “calm down space” for the child and was reportedly only used once.

The ACT’s report on their investigation into this “inappropriate structure” was released Tuesday, September 8. The report concluded the principal, who has been removed, was solely responsible for the decision to build the construction and hired an external party to build it.

The ACT also completed an investigation into the use of “withdrawal spaces” in other government schools but found no evidence of their use elsewhere in the system.

Education Minister Joy Burch called it an isolated incident of poor decision making.

This structure could not be deemed acceptable in any way shape or form, in any of our public education schools, hence it was withdrawn,” Burch said in April, according to ABC News. “I have also made assurances through the school executive and through our support teams that the child and the family involved is given the utmost support over this time.”

See more of Burch’s comments in the video below: 


One positive outcome to the disturbing incident will be the ACT’s increased vigilance on behalf of its special needs students. The government reports that it will now be appointing a Director for Families and Students, who will be focused on the safety and wellbeing of students, particularly the most “vulnerable.”

Also, in addition to the ACT’s original investigation into the cage, Tony Shaddock, an international special education expert and University of Canberra academic, will chair a panel that is conducting a review of the Australian government’s special education programs, according to a statement from the ACT.

The cage has sparked a national debate in Australia around how schools deal with children who have behavioral issues, The Canberra Times reported. The much-need discussion comes at a time when the Australian school system is dealing with an unprecedented number of students with disabilities and special needs, including autism.

It is about how we as a community understand and better respond to children with special needs and make sure best practice in place,” Burch said, according to the Canberra Times.

Originally published: September 10, 2015
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