OSAKA – Education authorities in the city of Osaka have pledged to review how schools handle applications for places from special-needs children after hearing that a public elementary school tried to turn away a local child with Down syndrome.
New Zealander Steve Sasaki-Samuels, 37, and his wife, Junko, 45, residents of Yodogawa Ward, said they experienced painful resistance when they tried to enroll their 6-year-old son in the school.
On Monday, the Osaka Board of Education admitted during a news conference to having shown reluctance to accept the child. Officials said they will improve support for schools by introducing consultation services.
Last June, the Sasaki-Samuels visited a local public elementary school to ask whether their son would get sufficient care and assistance if they enrolled him.
According to the couple, a school representative was blunt in reply: “We are unable to provide any special support.”
Moreover, they said they received a similar response from the Osaka Board of Education, where officials warned them not to expect any special care.
Osaka guidelines regarding the enrollment of children with disabilities require schools to interview the child’s parents or guardians and find out about what needs the child may have.
The Sasaki-Samuels, however, said the school did not ask them for this information.
Instead, they were simply told that “assigning additional staff would be troublesome” and “would exceed the budget.”
The couple, who run an English-language school, said the elementary school may not have had intended to be discriminatory, but they were nonetheless deeply hurt by its response.
In November, they started collecting signatures for a petition that they hoped would push local authorities into changing their practices and introducing solutions for families with disabled children.
They also filed a written complaint to the Osaka Bar Association arguing that the school’s practice violates human rights.
The campaign gained a certain amount of attention nationwide when friends and relatives of other children at the boy’s kindergarten spread the word about it, anticipating how the authorities might respond.
In January, Steve Sasaki-Samuels received an official apology from the board of education. Board officials said they will compile a manual for schools containing guidelines on the enrolment of children with disabilities and will inform institutions what forms of assistance such students are entitled to.
“We’ve shed a lot of tears, but we have had our voices heard,” Junko Sasaki-Samuels said.
Steve Sasaki-Samuels said, “Instead of rejecting (disabled children) from society, they should be accepted and live together with everyone else.”
He added that “every child is a vital member of society.”