Josh is aged twelve and suffers from spinal muscular atrophy type 2 (SMA II) which causes muscle weakness leaving him unable to stand or walk alone. However using an electric wheelchair he is pretty mobile and leads little support. His elder siblings had attended a grammar school which was always earmarked as suitable for Josh should he pass to get in to the grammar stream. The school is suitable for wheelchair use and has lifts and automatic doors that were needed for him to get around without fuss.
Having passed a series of tests that qualified him to attend the school called Wallace High School in Lisburn in Ireland he was then refused entry due to him being a wheelchair user. Josh had performed well in previous schools and it was believed that the grammar was the right place for him to continue his education so it was a shock when his application was declined.
Josh's mother, Ms Clarke said "We expected to hear confirmation from January but heard nothing until May 2015, the week before schools were being released to other P7s,".
"Josh's primary school principal and the education board called me into a meeting. Wallace wanted to take our decision to send Josh to their school to judicial review and served a pre-action protocol letter".
"We then made the decision to go to the second choice school - Friends - where he was accepted and is thriving. Wallace's reasons for not accepting Josh were statutory - basically, not academically able, detrimental to the teaching of other children and not a good use of resources."
"They said we did not visit school so we were not in a position to pick it, they said they were concerned about mental health issues and depression and he could be isolated - he does not have any depression or mental health issues,"
This all came as a terrible shock to Josh and his mother, so the family sought Equality Commission support and the case was due to be heard before a Special Educational Needs and Disability Tribunal.
Fortunately a settlement was reached prior to it going to tribunal and the board of governors apologised and regretted its earlier decision and for the upset that it had caused.
Apart from the upset it caused the school had clearly neglected their duties under the requirements of the disability discrimination legislation and European law. As a result of this the school has committed itself to the training of all staff so that they are aware of their obligations and responsibilities under the Disability Discrimination Act and best practice.
Lets hope that Josh and his wheelchair are accepted wherever he chooses to school.