Human rights experts hear from parents

July 20, 2021

IHC now has some powerful support in its long-running legal battle to protect disabled children’s rights to a proper education in mainstream schools.

The Human Rights Review Tribunal and IHC are collecting evidence about the experiences of disabled children in the education system from parents, educators and community groups, ahead of a hearing in that tribunal.

The claim was first lodged against the government in 2008. It has taken 13 years to get to this point. The ground finally shifted in favour of a legal resolution late last year when the tribunal dismissed an attempt by Crown lawyers to strike out key aspects of the IHC case. The Director of Human Rights Proceedings Michael Timmins then agreed to provide legal representation to IHC.

Michael, human rights lawyer Josh Suyker and IHC advocates began attending meetings with parents in Whangārei in May. They heard first-hand accounts of the discrimination young disabled Kiwis face at school. Two further meetings were held in Auckland and others are planned throughout New Zealand. IHC is compiling a growing list of people who want to share their experiences.

This is also an opportunity for others in the education, disability and community sectors to tell the tribunal what they think about these problems and how they could be solved.

Examples of discrimination include disabled students being denied enrolment or not being able to attend school all day, being encouraged to go to a school that is ‘more appropriate’ for disabled students, not participating in school activities, or being placed with a teacher who lacks the confidence or support to teach students with different learning needs.

Many students can’t access the support they need for equal access to education.

In 2019, in an IHC survey of 300 parents of disabled children, 27 percent said a school had refused to enrol their child in the preceding five years, and 58 percent reported their child had been bullied.

IHC believes these practices contravene New Zealand’s commitments to international human rights conventions.

IHC Director of Advocacy Trish Grant says there are many stories of discrimination in New Zealand schools, and the Whangārei hui brought even more to light.

“There was a lot of feeling in the room. A lot of sadness and frustration expressed, a lot of despair, a lot of anger.”

Michael Timmins is asking families and carers:

  • What difficulties have you and your child faced at school?
  • How did you go about trying to solve those problems?
  • What changes do you think need to happen for your child and other disabled students to get a fair deal?

Trish says the human rights experts will now decide whether disabled students can exercise their right to education free from discrimination. She hopes the hearing will be held this year.

Anyone wanting to host a meeting, attend a meeting or support the complaint can contact the Advocacy team on 04 472 2247, 0800 442 442 or

Read more about the education complaint at

Caption: Director of Human Rights Proceedings Michael Timmins hears from parents at a hui in Whangārei in May.