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Public hearing 7: Barriers to accessing a safe, quality and inclusive education, Brisbane - Day 5

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CHAIR:  Good morning, everybody.  Today is the last day of the current hearing on education.  As on previous days, I invite Commissioner Mason to make the Acknowledgment of Country.

COMMISSIONER MASON:  The Disability Royal Commission acknowledges the First Nations people as the original inhabitants of the different lands on which this hearing is being held: the lands of the Gadigal people of the Eora Nation, the lands of the Turrbal and Jagera Nations and the lands of the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin Nations.

We pay respect to our Elders with disability, past and present, and we give acknowledgment to First Nations young people with disability who one day will take their place as Elders in the future.

CHAIR:  Thank you very much, Commissioner Mason.

Ms Bennett.

MR POWER:  Mr Power, your Honour.

CHAIR:  It's difficult to mistake you for Ms Bennett, but yes, thank you, Mr Power.

MR POWER:  Commissioners, the first witness is Maria Scharnke and you will find her statement at Tender Bundle A, Volume 1, Tab 4.  I tender Ms Scharnke's statement and ask the Commission mark it as Exhibit 7.168.  There is a bundle of relevant material that I seek also to tender, and ask that it be marked Exhibits 7.169 to 7.173.

CHAIR:  Yes, that can be done, thank you.



MR POWER:  Thank you.

CHAIR:  Thank you.  Yes.

MR POWER:  Ms Scharnke is here in the Brisbane hearing room, and she will take an oath on the Bible.  I ask the oath be administered.

CHAIR:  Yes, just before you do that.

Ms Scharnke, thank you for your appearance today.  We very much appreciate it.   
Just so you're clear, it may have been explained to you, of course, Commissioners Atkinson and Mason are in the same room as you are.  Commissioner Galbally, whom you will see on the screen, is in Melbourne and I am in a hearing room in Sydney.


CHAIR:  So if you would be good enough to follow the instructions of Commissioner Atkinson's Associate, she will administer the oath to you.  Thank you.


CHAIR:  Thank you, Mr Power will now ask you some questions.


MR POWER:  Maria, could you tell the Commission your full name.

MS SCHARNKE:  Maria Rachel Scharnke.

MR POWER:  How old are you?

MS SCHARNKE:  Seventeen.

MR POWER:  Where do you live in terms of the suburb, and with who?

MS SCHARNKE:  I live in the Logan area of Queensland, south of Brisbane, with my father and our dog.

MR POWER:  Did you make a statement for this hearing?

MS SCHARNKE:  Yes, I did.

MR POWER:  Is everything in that statement true and correct?


MR POWER:  Now, do you yourself identify as a person with disability?

MS SCHARNKE:  Yes, I do.

MR POWER:  And what is that disability you identify with?

MS SCHARNKE:  I have an Autism Spectrum Disorder.  I identify as being autistic.  I also identify as being multiply disabled.  I have several comorbid disorders which are comorbid.  That is, they commonly occur alongside autism, thus I do identify primarily as an autistic person.

MR POWER:  And in paragraph 7 of your statement, you say:

Autism is a fundamental part of my identity.

Now, why do you say that and can you expand on that for the Commission?

MS SCHARNKE:  My autism is a disability but it is not a detriment.  It is a fundamental part of who I am both in the social sense, that is, my interactions with other people, with the community, with systems such as the government system, the health system, the education system, have all been impacted and shaped by the fact that I have a disability but in addition, autism is a neurodivergent or neurodevelopmental disorder, thus my brain has been shaped by autism, so the way I think is quite literally determined by my, disability, and I am proud of this fact.

MR POWER:  And you express your pride of the fact that it is a fundamental part of your identity within your statement.  You say that, at paragraph 8, that it should not be up to those who do not have my disabilities to define them and their effects.  Now, could you explain your personal relationship with autism to the Commissioners in terms of how you see it playing a role in your future?

MS SCHARNKE:  Well, Commissioners, the fact that I am autistic is, among other things, what has, of course, brought me this opportunity of being able to speak here.  Because I am autistic, I have been discriminated against and I have undergone abuse, neglect, and exploitation, and violence, the whole lot, and not only that, but autism as shaping who I am, the way my brain works, the way I respond to things, autism has meant that when I have undergone these things, I have stood up   I apologise.  I wish to rephrase that.  That was ableist language.

I have not tolerated lightly injustice, whether it has been done to me or to other people.  My autism does not allow me to do nothing when I witness injustice.  I have a very strong sense of justice thanks to my autism.  When I see something that is wrong, I know it is my duty to intervene.  When other people, people who don't have autism, might say "This isn't right, somebody should do something", I recognise that I am somebody so I should do something.  Thus, I intend to, and believe I am already on the path to have a career in justice and advocacy, especially for other persons who are disabled or identify as having a disability.

MR POWER:  Autism is a fundamental part of your identity.  Do you have any other disabilities alongside autism?

MS SCHARNKE:  Yes.  I have motor dyspraxia which somewhat impairs my motor skills, both fine and gross.  I have been assessed as having a specific developmental  
disorder, or learning disorder, in mathematics, and I do have additional attached, as I said earlier, comorbidities including mental health diagnoses such as anxiety.

MR POWER:  With regard to the learning disability regarding mathematics, is it correct that although you have always been aware that you've suffered from those problems, it's only in the last 12 months that you've actually only been able to get a diagnosis about that learning disability in maths?

MS SCHARNKE:  That is correct.

MR POWER:  What effects does your autism have on you and your daily life, especially your education?

MS SCHARNKE:  Unfortunately, due to the fact that we are yet to see or perceive diagnosed an autistic person who has not been traumatised, the effects of my autism in my daily life are often combined and overlapping in a Venn diagram with the effects of my trauma.  But with this in mind --- I apologise, I will slow down ---

MR POWER:  Thank you.

MS SCHARNKE:  --- I often panic when there are other people in a room as I fear that they may harm me.  I often have trouble concentrating thus when there are other people in a room.  In addition, sensory stimuli can impair my concentration and distract me.  I also have auditory processing difficulties, so I have an inability to, if there is more than one stream of audio, decide which to focus on and, indeed, to focus on any.

Of course, as I'm sure the Commissioners are aware, autism as a psychosocial disability means people have difficulty with social interaction.  So especially in terms of my education I often have difficulty understanding instructions due to ambiguity.  Autism is   I define autism as --- partially, in one way --- as not being able to access a framework of the world that people who are not autistic often have access to automatically.  So I do not have that framework to rely upon and thus have much less information and much more difficulty understanding ambiguity with instructions often, which can be interpreted as non compliance, deliberate defiance, et cetera.

In addition, I also often become non verbal when tired, which as non verbal means of communication are often not readily recognised, especially in in person settings has again led to difficulties.

MR POWER:  And is it correct that part of those issues with ambiguity in instructions also extends to exam questions?

MS SCHARNKE:  This is correct.

MR POWER:  We're going to come back to that later but I just wanted to note that.  Now, if I can take you back to your early childhood, have you been told by your  
father how you came to be -- diagnosed with autism?

MS SCHARNKE:  I have been told by my father how I came to be, but that's another question!

MR POWER:  Again, sorry, the literalist, sorry, I'll start again.

Have you been told your father how you came to be diagnosed with autism?

MS SCHARNKE:  Yes, I have.

MR POWER:  And when was that approximately?  How old were you?

MS SCHARNKE:  Commissioners, I was 6 years old.  This was in June of 2009 and this diagnosis only occurred after a number of attempts to have me assessed or diagnosed by my father.  This had commenced when I was aged 2.

MR POWER:  So, and is it correct that your understanding is that there were trips to a number of specialists before, ultimately, when you were aged 6, you were diagnosed with what would now be called autism but at that time was framed as Asperger's syndrome?

MS SCHARNKE:  This is correct.

MR POWER:  Now, prior to your diagnosis with autism, which was when you were 6, were you attending school?

MS SCHARNKE:  Yes, I was.

MR POWER:  What school was that?

MS SCHARNKE:  St Peter's Lutheran School in Dimboola, which is in a regional area.

MR POWER:  Dimboola is actually in Queensland and another State.

MS SCHARNKE:  Yes. In another State.

MR POWER:  Can you describe from your memory your experience at school when you were 5 and 6 years old before you were diagnosed with autism?

MS SCHARNKE:  I do not say this lightly, and as I'm sure you noticed from me taking an oath instead of an affirmation, I am quite devoutly religious.  It was hellish.  I was consistently excluded, micro exclusions, as we have heard recently, from activities, from more explicitly education, that is learning time, from playing time.  There was a very low expectation of my intelligence and my abilities.  There was a great deal of bullying from other students, both physical, which I was easily able to  
recognise, and psychological, which, as I am autistic and have difficulty picking up people's intentions, often only realised after it had already been occurring for some time.

In addition, I was often removed from class as a disciplinary measure or as something that was framed as a helpful measure and was isolated without supervision in a form of in school segregation.

MR POWER:  Where physically was that?

MS SCHARNKE:  Could you clarify, please.

MR POWER:  Sorry.  When you were excluded from   you were at school but you were physically separated from the other students, where were you sent and you said you were alone, where were you sent?

MS SCHARNKE:  This was in two different places.  Initially, and most upsettingly and concerningly for myself, and I believe for other people, was a completely unsupervised, that is, I was not within line of sight if staff were to move around in a room area on concrete with the baggage racks.  So this is where equipment was --- students' equipment was stored.  Although I didn't have the words to articulate this at the time, I also found this dehumanising, given that I felt I was being equated to a piece of children's luggage.

The second place --- and this was purely as discipline.  I would be sent here if I became distressed and attempted to express this, often after a meltdown I would be placed in this area.  After five minutes a teacher would come along and ask if I was sorry, and because I am an honest person and I did not understand what I had done wrong --- in many cases I contended I did nothing wrong, to this day --- I said, "No, I'm not" and I did not understand why I continued to be excluded because after all, we weren't supposed to tell lies.

The second area was accommodation.  This was in a room   this was a very small school, a regional school.  There was one main building, and there were two classrooms, one on each end, and in the centre there was another room which was usually empty or stored things again, storage.  In this room there was placed a beanbag and I believe several or maybe just one book.  These were from home.  These were, I believe, not purchased or funded by the school but with my parents' money.  Yes, I have just been --- had confirmed this is correct.  My father is in the audience.

In this area, I would be --- this would be my go to area when I was distressed, where I needed time away from other people, when I was not emotionally equipped to handle something that was going on.  At the time, I thought it was a great consideration, albeit the only one I had.

However, due to how distressing the school was, I often spent most of my days there  
completely missing out on lessons.  I now understand, with the benefit of growth, maturity and hindsight, that this was not done with my benefit in mind but as a deliberate exclusionary tactic so that the school staff could say that they had accommodated me, therefore there was no move, there was no push, there was no obligation or effort put in to actually make the school environment more inclusive, to actually do something to help change the system that would have made school accessible, not only for me, who had been specifically just me, granted this, but for other disabled students.

MR POWER:  And so you've just mentioned that that was an accommodation that was made, and --- but that was the only accommodation.  How, so when you got the autism diagnosis, did your parents take that to the school?


MR POWER:  And other than this place with the beanbag where you were permitted to go, were any other accommodations made?

MS SCHARNKE:  I do not believe so or recall so.

MR POWER:  Do you --- and you were about 6 at this time?

MS SCHARNKE:  5 or 6, yes.

MR POWER:  Do you remember --- personally, do you remember the reaction of your teacher after she was informed of your autism diagnosis?

MS SCHARNKE:  I beg your pardon, I misinterpreted your other question.  I will answer that, I worked it out now.  I would like to clarify that, yes, I was 6 when my diagnosis was brought to teachers.  I could not recall what age I had been when accommodations were first made.

MR POWER:  All right.  And in terms of your memory of what your class teacher did or said after being told of it would have been Asperger's syndrome diagnosis, do you remember anything about what she said or did?

MS SCHARNKE:  She refused to believe that autism existed.  This was in 2009.  She refused to believe autism existed and claimed that I was just a naughty child who needed to be disciplined.

MR POWER:  Now, you go, in your statement, into the particular incidents of bullying and exclusion that you felt.  Do you think that that very early experience of school, both prior and after the autism diagnosis, had any effects on you in your further education?

MS SCHARNKE:  Absolutely.  This was a great deal of isolation.  This was a great deal of trauma.  This was already laying the boundaries of several lessons which,  
indeed, were perhaps the most long lasting and formative lessons I've learnt at some school which is that I will not have positive social interaction at school, I will not have friends, people will take advantage of me, I am unworthy or, shall we say, difficult to deal with, that, most damning of all, that authority is not there to help me, it is there to hurt me, it is there to try and keep me in line.  And not only when I deliberately cross those lines, although I believe we have heard previously that before the age of 10 I could not deliberately do anything.

So, whether or not I knowingly crossed those lines, whether I fell and stumbled over those lines, whether I knew the lines were there in the first place, crossing them would mean I was punished and it was the teachers', the school staff's authorities job to make sure I stayed within those lines.  Not to explain why they were there, not to tell me they were there, not to tell me where they were and not to let me cross them.

MR POWER:  Have you told myself and other members of the Office of Solicitors Assisting, that it's been a very important week for you to be able to see things similar to your issues being exposed to the public?


MR POWER:  Now, in the latter part of 2009, is it correct that you and your family moved to Queensland?


MR POWER:  And what was the first school you attended there?

MS SCHARNKE:  I attended Slacks Creek State School.

MR POWER:  How did you come to be attending Slacks Creek State School?

MS SCHARNKE:  It came on recommendation from   to my family from autism support networks in Victoria.  However, this was not the first school we applied to or wished me to attend.  My father is a Lutheran pastor, that's a minister of religion, and his first choice was that I attend a Lutheran religious school.  Several schools were tentative about accepting a new student until they learned my father was a minister of their specific religious denomination, which point they said they would be thrilled and it would be an honour.  I'm paraphrasing, I don't know if they said that.

Then, they learnt that I had special needs.  They said, "No, we can't accept her."  They stated they had already hit their quota or they didn't have enough funding, and I was utterly rejected, thus I went to Slacks Creek State School.

MR POWER:  And to confirm, you --- the Lutheran faith is important for you?

MS SCHARNKE:  My Christian faith is important to me.

MR POWER:  Can you describe how attending   sorry.  So there was a recommendation for Slacks Creek State School that had been provided through an autism network in Victoria?

MS SCHARNKE:  That is correct.

MR POWER:  Okay.  Can you describe how attending Slacks Creek State School was for you initially, and then how things progressed over time?

MS SCHARNKE:  Initially it was very much an improvement on the previous school and, indeed, the school never escalated to the same levels of abuse as the previous one, which did involve physical abuse by staff members.  But initially the school was very much a positive educational setting, not only was I theoretically provided with accommodations, these were actually put into practice and effected, which I'm sure, Commissioners are aware this does not often happen.

In addition, the Principal at the time was excellent.  Then as I believe is something we also heard with "Sam", if I recall correctly, a new Principal came and the culture of the school changed.

MR POWER:  If I can just come back to when you first arrived.  Is it correct that that was an Acting Principal and you felt, as a student, that she was prepared to give informal accommodations, there was a breakout room next to her office and you had a teacher's aide who you found really helpful to you in your learning?

MS SCHARNKE:  I am not certain what basis of employment she was at that school on but yes, I certainly felt she was willing to provide me with informal accommodations including usage of a breakout room near her office, which was quite psychologically significant to me as that was a radical reframing of the idea that being near an authority figure was actually a safe place to be.

MR POWER:  And part of that was the fact that she was friendly and approachable and made that breakout room, you felt, a safe place for you?

MS SCHARNKE:  That is correct.

MR POWER:  Things changed when another Principal came to the school, and is it correct that had a much more rules based, perhaps you perceived it, an authoritarian approach?

MS SCHARNKE:  That is correct.

MR POWER:  All right.  I should ask you this, what grade were you when you came into Slacks Creek State School?

MS SCHARNKE:  The very tail end, the end of Grade 1.

MR POWER:  So Grade 1 was, you felt, good with the Acting Principal, and then in Grade 2 can you describe how things were in Grade 2?  Or perhaps when the new Principal arrived and things began to change.

MS SCHARNKE:  I do not have a very articulate statement of the way the school culture shifted or of the most broad impacts on me.  I was rather young at the time.  I do, however, know that I became much more frequently subjected to disciplinary measures, not because my behaviour had in any way changed.  That said, even if it had, all that would have done was reflect that the school had changed and become more difficult for me to deal with, not that I was becoming a naughtier, et cetera, child.

But I do recall that very, very often, so on many different occasions, it feels like once a week, I doubt it was that often, the PA, the public address system over the speakers would call my name, pronounce in anglicised fashion, "Maria Scharn ker to the office, please," or Scharn kee, whatever, and often I wasn't sure what I had "done wrong".  Again, "done wrong" in inverted commas, because I believe in some instances I transgressed only rules that I believe were unjust.  And this was isolating and a form of public humiliation.

MR POWER:  So in paragraph 45 of your statement, you say that:

.... the school wouldn't tolerate students going beyond boundaries and would punish me for behaviour that they believed was wilful.  In fact on these occasions I was often having an emotional reaction that I couldn't control --- a meltdown.

And is that what you're describing where you would be disciplined for things like that?


MR POWER:  Now is it correct that ultimately there was a dispute between your family and the Principal about what was occurring, and your mother asked for support, and the relationship between your family and the Principal broke down, and that on the recommendation of general practitioner, paediatrician and psychologist, your parents decided to withdraw you from Slacks Creek State School?

MS SCHARNKE:  That is correct.

MR POWER:  In around Grade 3, is it correct, after a period where you were home-schooled through some considerable effort from your parents, you were able ---

MS SCHARNKE:  And from me.

MR POWER:  I apologise, and from you, you were able to get a place at the Autism Queensland School at Sunnybank Hills?

MS SCHARNKE:  This is correct.

MR POWER:  Can we deal with this briefly.

MS SCHARNKE:  Certainly.

MR POWER:  Can you describe what your overall impression is of the time you spent at the Autism Queensland School?

MS SCHARNKE:  On the surface level, very helpful.  A bit deeper than that, unjust.

MR POWER:  Okay.  And to set a framework for it, is it correct that when you went to autism school initially, you were being home-schooled two days a week and that the Autism Queensland School for the balance of the time, and then you began attending St Francis College three days a week while attending Autism Queensland School the other two days?

MS SCHARNKE:  Correct.

MR POWER:  Now, you've spoken about autism being a fundamental part of your identity and something you're very proud of, that you wouldn't be the person you are without autism.

MS SCHARNKE:  Absolutely.

MR POWER:  If you could just explain your perception as a Grade 3 student, and onwards, at the autism school, and how you reflect on that.

MS SCHARNKE:  The aim of the school, while it was ultimately, or perhaps penultimately, a more friendly environment on the surface: lights were less bright, there were less people per classroom, there was a higher staff to student ratio, there were attached breakout rooms, ultimately the goal of the school was to educate its students not only curriculum material, such as it may be, but to behave in a manner that was more socially acceptable.

I find this ethically abhorrent.  I believe that if a society is hostile to young children because of the way their brain is built, the problem is not the young children's brains.  The problem is the society.  In addition, while we were being taught to act in a socially acceptable manner, this did nothing to quell the issues we had internally.  For instance, I was taught not to begin a conversation by going up to somebody and saying such and such.  I was taught to begin a conversation by saying, "Hi, how are you?  How's it going?  Yes, it is a lovely day", all sorts of things that, I will be honest I still really don't see the need for, but there we are, and --- they seem inefficient.  And --- no, I apologise, that was a poor example.

We were taught how to keep reactions and expressions of distress, and need for  
assistance and help, that is, meltdowns, on the inside.  We were taught how to internalise these feelings of great turmoil.  While on the surface, this means that, yes, we're less likely to run into issues in the short term because we haven't had an adverse emotional reaction in a situation.  It, in the long term, means that not only do these emotional needs and difficulties not go away, it just removes one of the only avenues many of the students they had --- quite a few were non verbal --- to express them.

It felt like we were being altered to fit in with society as children, but whether or not we were children, no matter what anybody's age is, disability should never have to be obscured or have to be feigned for the comfort so that people who don't have these disabilities can just go about their lives not bothering about us and not thinking "Oh, maybe I should alter my behaviour."  We should not be the ones altering our behaviour.

If a system is oppressing people, the problem is not that the oppressed people should be acting in a different manner.  The issue is that the system is oppressive.

MR POWER:  Okay, so there is obviously an important philosophical difference between yourself and the autism school about what autism stands for, for you personally.

You, in your statement, speak about positive things that occurred at the autism school.


MR POWER:  And that it was acting or seeking to act as a bridge between full time attendance in a mainstream school.

MS SCHARNKE:  I do not believe the school acted in bad faith.

MR POWER:  Yes.  So you were there for about three years, initially part time home-schooled and then part time at St Francis. And is it correct that in Grade 5 in 2013 you went to St Francis College full time, and staff from Autism Queensland helped you and St Francis with that transition?

MS SCHARNKE:  That's correct.  I transitioned full time to St Francis.

MR POWER:  Now St Francis is a school quite close to where you live, walking distance away?

MS SCHARNKE:  That is correct, but it was not at the time.

MR POWER:  I see.  So you've since moved to be closer to St Francis?

MS SCHARNKE:  Correct.

MR POWER:  Now, do you know how you came to be at St Francis initially part time through Autism Queensland and then ultimately full time in 2013?  Was that --- sorry.

MS SCHARNKE:  Could you clarify that, please?

MR POWER:  You may not know, but was it your parents seeking out schools that would be supportive for someone in your position?

MS SCHARNKE:  Yes, very extensively.

MR POWER:  And ultimately St Francis is where you went to?


MR POWER:  Now, St Francis is a college that goes from Prep to Grade 12, is that right?


MR POWER:  And you have --- you're now in Grade 12?


MR POWER:  All right, and you've been there full time since Grade 5?

MS SCHARNKE:  Yes, since the end of Grade 5.

MR POWER:  Are you in a mainstream class or are you in a class, a separate class at St Francis?

MS SCHARNKE:  "Mainstream" and "segregated" is a dirty word but that doesn't mean we can't use it.

MR POWER:  Yes.  Now, in terms of your experience as a student at St Francis, can you give the Commissioners a broad understanding of what you feel about your education since reaching St Francis?

MS SCHARNKE:  St Francis College is an incredibly diverse school linguistically, and culturally and this has really influenced, I feel, the way my disability has been reacted to and how much it sticks out or doesn't stick out.

I believe, last time I checked, St Francis is the school in Queensland that has students who were born in the greatest number of different countries, so over 50.

There is a high level of adapted curriculum for people with different needs, whether  
that is language, whether that is physical disability, whether that is psychosocial or learning disability, or a combination thereof.  This   the fact that it was already such a diverse school meant   means a lot to me because I am no longer trying to fit into or realising I cannot fit into a sort of uniform, if you will pardon the term, group of people because there is no uniform   there is a uniform   but there is no uniform group of people at this school.

This natural diversity, while I still often felt isolated from my peers, this natural diversity has been an amazing psychological boon for me, as well as meaning there were many mechanisms already in place that meant I could more easily be provided with support.

MR POWER:  Now, I want to ask you about the most positives and negatives of your school experience.

Now, I'll start with the positives.  You've mentioned that the diverse student body is something that you find very important, and important for you personally as well as more generally.  What about --- as I said, we're going to go through positives and negatives --- positives for yourself and other students with disabilities at St Francis's?

MS SCHARNKE:  Another positive for other students with disabilities, and myself, is that there is a dedicated disability services building.  This is quite a large building.  It would normally fit several classrooms.  It's staffed full time by people who specialise in disability support.  There's also another similar vocation, although I don't believe it takes up as much geographical space, for students who have English as a second language.

This location has been very helpful given the fact that it can be seen as a home base and there is a place students with disabilities know that there are people who can provide support there.

MR POWER:  Is it correct that you, over time, have become a mentor to younger children   younger students with disabilities?

MS SCHARNKE:  That is correct.  I'm very proud of them.

MR POWER:  I will come to things in terms of negatives in a moment, but that mentoring you see as a positive?

MS SCHARNKE:  That is absolutely positive.  It is --- not only is it incredible to have the chance to help other children, especially other children with disabilities, and it's partially due to that building, I met a lot of them gathered outside that area, but it's very, very important to me that I can --- the one thing I really want to do with my life is make a world where nobody with disabilities has to suffer in the same ways I have for the same reasons I have.

When I was the age of most of these students, indeed the age of all of them when I  
met them at least, I did not have anything even approaching a student mentor or a student advocate who would look out for me, who would encourage me, who would be there maybe not as so much of a peer because there is a significant age difference, but certainly as someone who is also a student and who can act not only as a support and a mentor, but as a friend, when I didn't have any of that, and it's so valuable to me that I can be providing that to other people to already be doing something to ensure that there are at least a small group of other people who aren't going through the same thing.

MR POWER:  I mentioned negatives.  Is it correct this is a really important thing for you, and you do it, but if in a perfect world the school would recognise a role more formally or more supportively?

MS SCHARNKE:  I disagree with that, actually.  I don't --- in a more ideal world, in a more ideal society, educational system, yes, to an extent, specific school, I wouldn't have to be in that role.  I don't --- I shouldn't --- this isn't about me getting recognition.  This isn't about me getting praise.  This isn't about me getting additional rights that go with responsibilities.  These students should be looked after, it should not be up to another student, no matter how dedicated to doing this, no matter how much she is passionate about this, to provide the support.  There shouldn't be a need for me to provide this support.  This should come naturally.  Children, not even, regardless, even especially, students with disabilities should have friends, should have supports, should have people who are able to walk them to class, should have people who are able to walk them to the sick bay when they're very ill, should have students who are able to sit with them, who are able to --- not students, I beg your pardon, that was a slip.  Not students.  There should be adults who are doing these things.  There should be adults who are helping them with their schoolwork.  I shouldn't have to be doing it.  I am glad to be doing it, but I shouldn't have to.

MR POWER:  And you've dealt with other things in your statement as well but if we can, for balance, turn to the things that you think have been negative about ---

MS SCHARNKE:  Certainly.  I thought I already had.

MR POWER:  I just want to give you the opportunity to say anything else about that.

MS SCHARNKE:  There have certainly been examples of when my autism has been misinterpreted as poor conduct, misbehaviour.  There have been plenty of instances of negative discrimination and of needs not being met, and of mistreatment due to misunderstanding and misclassifying of myself and my autism.  These are not, however, specific to this school because not only are they at every school I've ever been to, they were at every school I've ever heard about as well.  But yes, those have occurred, that has been very negative for me.

MR POWER:  Now, I want to turn to Grade 12 exams.  Now, in Queensland this is the first year of ATAR, which is an external exam system.

MS SCHARNKE:  A tertiary admission system.

MR POWER:  Before I get to that, in terms of your future, what do you want to be?

MS SCHARNKE:  I want to be a trailblazer.  I want to be an advocate.  I want to be a helper.  Like I said, what I want is to be able to help other people with disabilities.  If you mean more specifically?

MR POWER:  No, no.  So   


MS SCHARNKE:  Certainly, Commissioner.


MS SCHARNKE:  Thank you.  I recognise that.  I wish to be able to do it perhaps on a less dependent on circumstance basis.

MR POWER:  As Commissioner Atkinson said, you are here as an advocate.


MR POWER:  In terms of that being something you can do in your adult, not in your adult, but in your longer term life.

MS SCHARNKE:  Theoretically I'm not.  A couple of days.

MR POWER:  Couple days, all right.  Is tertiary education very important to you?

MS SCHARNKE:  Yes, it is.  I recognise that part of this is, I will admit, some internalised classism, but to me I am naturally much more skilled with things   I am very skilled with reading and writing.  I know I am very articulate.  Tertiary education, specifically university education, is the key way that I feel I can improve my credentials so that in this unfair, hostile world I can be recognised as somebody who has a right to be in places providing support.

MR POWER:  Now, is it right that when you ---

MS SCHARNKE:  Sorry, I do, of course, also very much want to learn a lot more.  I want to learn as much as possible about disability studies, which I am aware is an emerging field and I'm contributing to as we speak.  But I want to study justice and social services and learn about as much of this as possible, however, I don't interpret that as being --- I don't interpret university, tertiary education formally as being the only way I can do that.  I can learn things in other ways, it just won't be formally recognised that I've learnt them.

MR POWER:  When you learnt about the ATAR system, is it correct that you were concerned that this system might discriminate against the things that were connected with your autism?

MS SCHARNKE:  I absolutely was, and this criticism was not only well founded, it has now been --- sorry, this concern, and criticism, was not only well founded, it has now, I believe, been revealed to be correct.

MR POWER:  Now, some adjustments were made for your examinations, and I will come to those in a moment, but can you just describe the process that you and your father went through to try to get these accommodations formally in place?

MS SCHARNKE:  Well, it all started when I was born.

MR POWER:  Moving perhaps a bit further forward than that.

MS SCHARNKE:  Understood.  Well, when I first found out that the formerly used OP and IQ test system was being phased out, and that my year would undergo this system that was new to Queensland, I'm aware that it has already been in place in other States for some time, the first thing I did was --- maybe the second thing, maybe the first thing I did was say "Hey, that's a new system, hmm".  But the second thing I did was just begin researching disability accommodations in this system, because I knew that would be the primary thing I would have to work with  that.  And I found nothing.

There was absolutely nothing not only on Government websites but on more informal places of knowledge, let alone, you know, printed resources, of any Queensland ATAR accommodations for students with disabilities.

My next port of call, so to speak, again, was referring to other States who have enrolled in ATAR and what accommodations they provide students with disabilities.  I found nothing there either, which is absurd because that's been in place for years in many of these States.

So then I sort of kept repeatedly asking people "Hey, is something happening yet?  Hey, is something happening yet?"  Something was not happening yet.

MR POWER:  Is this something that was worrying you?  Is this a concern for you?

MS SCHARNKE:  Absolutely.  Accommodations are, unfortunately, because we shouldn't be in a world where they're not just provided automatically, something that it is vital I obtain because without them I will not be able to access supports I need to pursue my capabilities.

MR POWER:  Is it right that in relation to this, maybe not because of this, but connected to this you had a further diagnosis undertaken?

MS SCHARNKE:  That is correct.  To have some supports I needed provided, it was apparently necessary that I undergo further comprehensive psychological diagnostic testing at the expense of my family, my father, and ---

MR POWER:  And you mentioned when with you were speaking to me that your concern is that this sort of thing is not equitable because ---

MS SCHARNKE:  Oh, absolutely.  This is such a big problem.  Not only did arranging assessment require, for example, significant capability in not only the English language but in the formal English language, which I understand is another barrier for my father, to be able to arrange a few appointments.  There was a significant financial barrier that would be absolutely insurmountable for many, many people.  I'm exceedingly fortunate that I was able to undergo this testing.

MR POWER:  Okay.  Now is it correct through the Special Education Unit at St Francis, you made a submission to QCAA and that the formal --- you were informally told shortly before the practice exams what accommodations would be made, and you received a formal letter a week or so ago?

MS SCHARNKE:  That is correct.

MR POWER:  All right.  Could you just tell the Commission what accommodations were given to you for your external exams?

MS SCHARNKE:  An ability to type on an obviously locked down computer --- no spellcheck, Internet, of course --- instead of handwriting, which is very important because due to fine motor difficulties, I find it difficult to write by hand for any extended length of time.  In addition, I become illegible after two paragraphs.  I doubt I would get well marked if people thought I was a seismograph.

I also have been granted five minutes of additional time per half hour, which I'm not sure if I requested and I don't believe I need in most subjects.  I'm not quite sure why that's there, maybe it's a generic learning difficulty thing.  And two minutes of rest break, however that may be, per half hour, and ability --- and this is very helpful, this is vital --- to be in my own room instead of a great hall with a lot of other people where I will consistently be distracted and spiralling into panic.

MR POWER:  Now, one of the things that you've raised in your statement is that you find ambiguity in questions very difficult.

MS SCHARNKE:  This is correct.

MR POWER:  Now, can you just explain why you find that difficult and what possible adjustments you could see for that issue?

MS SCHARNKE:  Well, Commissioners, as I believe I had said earlier, ambiguity for me, is very difficult with instructions because for people who are not autistic  
often are able to logically deduce from what information they have, what is actually required.  I, as an autistic person, do not have access to most of that information, so I am put at a significant disadvantage.  I don't have the necessary information provided to make that clear judgment.  This has impacted a lot of questions, especially in the exams but in other assessment situations as well because I have been given ambiguous instructions and not had access to enough information to be able to work out what was required of me.

In some occasions, I believe this was entirely unintentional, and that people providing, finalising, overviewing assessments had no idea people could interpret that more than one way which, again, is an issue.  People should be aware of that, especially if they're overseeing assessments.  That should be an area of expertise there.

But in other circumstances, I have been explicit   it's been explicitly part of the task for me to work out ambiguities.  So it is therefore definitely seen as absolutely unfair for me to have any further information about them.

However, this is based on the ill founded and incorrect idea that I have access to as much information to unravel these ambiguities as other people.  I inherently have less.  As for what can be done about that to improve this, absolutely questions should be less ambiguous.  Maybe how people actually check over questions, not just looking at spelling and grammar which, by the way, you really --- sorry, not you, I apologise --- the education system, maybe in other States, but definitely in Queensland, some of the grammar I get on these assessments, that needs to be looked at.  You might just want to do over the whole overseeing here.  But (inaudible) apostrophes, I ask you --- yes, I'm getting back on topic, I'm sorry, Ben.

MR POWER:  Can I illustrate this, you provided the Disability Royal Commission with a practice examination question for a biology exam.


MR POWER:  Commissioners, I'm going to refer to this document which is at Part A, Volume 3, Tab 5 of the Tender Bundle.  The document ID is IND.0021.0001.0047.  Could I ask that it be placed on the screen but not on the public web stream?

Now, this question, is it correct that you found this question confronting for a number of reasons, and part of the issue you have with questions on occasions is that where you see injustice in the question you find it very hard to accept that and then just respond, essentially ignoring the injustice.

MS SCHARNKE:  Firstly, I would like to apologise for my long winded response to the previous question.  I misinterpreted it, interestingly.  This is no comment on you, Mr Power.  I believed you were asking me about something different.

Yes.  Not only do I find it very hard to ignore injustice in any circumstance, including exam questions, I find, at best, baffling and at worst intolerable the suggestion that I should ignore them.

MR POWER:  Sorry, I will just go to this question, if we may.


MR POWER:  The question involves applying Mendalian genetics, but the question is a family who have inherited Fragile X syndrome and then it asks the person answering the question to use Mendalian genetics to predict the probability of an offspring being male with the disorder if individual IV 4 mates with an individual without the syndrome.  Could you just explain why you found that question confronting and inappropriate?

MS SCHARNKE:  We shouldn't have to be answering questions about how well eugenics works, full stop.  That's it.

MR POWER:  Okay.  Is it correct that you also took issue with the use of the word "mate" in that context?

MS SCHARNKE:  Absolutely.  It's a further example of dehumanisation of people with disabilities, and not only did I find this question offensive and dangerous, this also made it very difficult for me to complete the exam because I had, of course, no forewarning, there would be a question with such ableist content, and I proceeded to have an anxiety attack which distracted me, I'm sure you could understand.

MR POWER:  Fragile X syndrome is not infrequently comorbid with autism?

MS SCHARNKE:  That is correct.  However, that did not contribute to my distress specifically, because whether or not many people with a certain disability also share one of the same disabilities I do, discrimination and unfair dehumanising conduct against individuals remains, so no matter how personal it is for me, and if it's unjust, especially if it's against people with disabilities, it's already personal for me.

MR POWER:  Thank you.  We might just take that question down.

Now there's an enormous amount further in your statement but in conclusion, this part of your evidence, could I just ask you to express to the Commission what you see as your key message?

MS SCHARNKE:  Disability is not something that should need to be accommodated for.  This sounds ridiculous, but hear me out.  It should be accepted as part of the natural spectrum of human diversity.  There should be no need whatsoever to go above and beyond to ensure children with disability have access to an education because there should not be a system, there should not be a world, there should not be a country, there should not be a department that perpetuates systematic inequities  
and inequalities and discrimination.  There should be no need to have to go out of one's way.  One should not have to go out of one's way.  No matter how much effort one puts in to ensure a person with disability has their right to an education being met, or their right to anything at all being met.  This should not be seen as great achievement.  This should not be seen as going above and beyond.  This is the bare minimum, and it is needed and it is required.

So, I should not be saying what I think people with disability can contribute to society.  We all know this answer.  Absolutely anything everybody else can and more with a specific insight and perspective.  But I shouldn't be needing to answer that question.  Nobody should have, with disability, should have to contribute anything to be valued as a human being and the idea that value and reason to support somebody goes back to how much they can contribute to society is inherently ableist, and people need to recognise that.

People should look after other people.  That's how society works.  There shouldn't be a question of what disabled people contribute to society because by existing in a society, that contribution, that's all the contribution needed.  People shouldn't have to make up for their existence.  That idea of a drain in resources is absurd.  People have a right to live.  People have a right to exist.  People have a right to learn.  And I shouldn't be having to say this.  Thank you.

MR POWER:  Thank you.

Chair, that's the evidence from Ms Scharnke.

CHAIR:  Thank you very much.  Ms Scharnke, what I will do now is ask the Commissioners who are in the same room as you whether they have any questions they would like to put.  So I shall first ask Commissioner Atkinson.

COMMISSIONER ATKINSON:  Thank you, Chair.  No, you've been very articulate in expressing your point of view and I thank you for that.  I have no further questions.  Thank you.

CHAIR:  Thank you.

Commissioner Mason.

COMMISSIONER MASON:  Again, I'd also like to thank you for coming today, and I would like to wish you well in your career, wherever it takes you.  The year of your diagnosis in a sense runs parallel to the ratification of the Declaration on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, and so your lived experience but also your calling out of where we need to continue to do better is really important.  So thank you very much for coming today and sharing your experiences.

MS SCHARNKE:  Thank you, Commissioner Mason.

CHAIR:  I shall now ask Commissioner Galbally, who is in Melbourne, whether she has any questions for you.


COMMISSIONER GALBALLY:  Thank you very much for your evidence.  I'd like to ask you a couple of questions.  First of all, would you say St Francis accepted your neurodiversity and didn't try to make you repress it?  More or less.

MS SCHARNKE:  Firstly, Commissioner, thank you for your question.  I would, if I may briefly, like to clarify a bit of terminology.  Neurodiversity refers to the concept that somebody's neurological build up is naturally diverse so there is no set way.  It's a philosophy or a theory.  Neurodivergence refers to specifically somebody who --- or neurodivergency --- somebody who is not specifically of the dominant neurotype.  So I believe you are asking if my neurodivergence was accepted.


MS SCHARNKE:  Thank you.  My answer would be, to a certain extent, Commissioner.  The school has at many times absolutely been a hostile environment that did not understand who I was and there have absolutely been people in establishment there, and on other levels as well, who have wanted to be able to fit me into a box or definitely wanted me to act in a way that's not --- in a way that's less autistic.  However, the fact does remain that it has been the most accepting school I have been to.

It's also --- in every school there are good teachers and bad teachers, and I've had some absolutely horrendous teachers, very abusive in many different ways, psychologically, physically, in many different schools, including St Francis.  However, when it comes to good teachers there have been a small handful, but a valued handful, and specifically one teacher at St Francis has been absolutely amazing, and this is because this teacher is also neurodivergent.

So I would argue that neurodiversity is an important thing to have in a faculty and more generally just disabled staff members.

COMMISSIONER GALBALLY:  Just to sort of finish that, so that is very different from the way you described the autism school as not accepting that and trying to get you to fit in.  That's a very different notion.

MS SCHARNKE:  I believe that all schools I've been to have tried to get me to fit in.  I don't think there is any school that is an outlier in that sense.  I found it particularly of note at an autism specific school because for me, since autism is their speciality, I feel like there is less of an excuse for that.

COMMISSIONER GALBALLY:  My second question is regarding the adjustments that you had to go through that quite arduous process.  Would your view be that they should be universally available?

MS SCHARNKE:  Yes, Commissioner, they should be universally available and it should not be needed by the school, which they did, or parents, which my father did, or students, which I did, to investigate and go not only above and beyond, but go out at all, to ensure these needs are being met and these accommodations are made.  I believe it should be part of an automatic process for every student, and there should be no specification drawn whether somebody does something about it.


CHAIR:  I would like, Ms Scharnke, to thank you and to echo what has been said by the other Commissioners for coming today, your statement and giving evidence, but I would particularly like to thank you for making a submission to the Royal Commission because it was that that led you to give evidence today, and I hope that your example will encourage other young people with disability to engage with the Royal Commission, and I think that your evidence and your contribution to us will have that effect, which will make your evidence even more important to us.

I want to join, also, with Commissioner Mason in wishing you every success in your chosen field, and to express, on the basis of what we've heard today, complete confidence that you will achieve your aspirations.  Thank you very much for your evidence today.

MS SCHARNKE:  Thank you very much.


CHAIR:  Thank you.

Mr Power, do we now adjourn for a while?

MR POWER:  Yes, Chair.  If we could adjourn until 12.00 when the next witness will be ready to give evidence.  At 12.00 Brisbane time.

CHAIR:  We will adjourn to 12.00 Brisbane time, which is 1.00 Sydney and Melbourne time.  Thank you very much.

MR POWER:  Thank you, Chair.

ADJOURNED    [11.19 AM]


RESUMED    [12.01†pm]

CHAIR:  Dr Mellifont.

DR MELLIFONT:  Can I inform the Commissioners, the intention in terms of timing is we sit through until lunch at approximately 1.00pm Brisbane time, then take a lunch break of around an hour to resume for the afternoon.  May I also note for the record this morning there was an additional appearance and that was in person in the Brisbane hearing room, that was of Ms L Wilson, of Counsel, instructed by the Corporation of the Trustees of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Brisbane, also in attendance, Mr C Abercrombie, Legal Counsel for Brisbane Catholic Education.

The next witness is Mr Chris Lassig.  The statement of Mr Lassig is at Tender Bundle C, Tab 2, with annexures referenced at Bundle D, Tabs 2 through 16.  I tender that statement and ask that it be marked as Exhibit 7.173, and the reference material as Exhibits 7.173.1 through to 7.173.15.  There is also a bundle of relevant material at Tender Bundle Part D, Volume 4 at Tabs 1 through 27, with the exception of two documents that were tendered at Public Hearing 2 as Exhibits 2.1.15 and 2.1.26.  I tender this bundle and ask that the documents in it be marked Exhibits 7.174 through 7.197.  Mr Lassig is in the hearing room here in Brisbane.

CHAIR:  Those documents will be marked as you have indicated.




CHAIR:  Mr Lassig, thank you for attending the Brisbane hearing room in order to give evidence today.  Would you be good enough, please, to follow the instructions of Commissioner Atkinson's Associate who will administer the oath to you.


CHAIR:  Mr Lassig, just to make sure you know where we all, you have two Commissioners in the room as you are, Commissioners Atkinson and Mason.  Commissioner Galbally who you can see on the screen is in Melbourne, and I'm in a  
hearing room in Sydney.  Dr Mellifont who is in the same room as you are will ask you questions now.

MR LASSIG:  Thank you.


DR MELLIFONT:  Thank you.  Could you state your full name, please?

MR LASSIG:  Christopher James Lassig.

DR MELLIFONT:  You've provided a 24 page statement dated 26 March 2020?

MR LASSIG:  That's correct.

DR MELLIFONT:  Are the contents of that statement true and correct to the best of your knowledge and ability?

MR LASSIG:  Yes, they are.

DR MELLIFONT:  You are now the Assistant Regional Director, North Coast Region, in the Department of Education Queensland?


DR MELLIFONT:  Your statement and the evidence you give today is made on behalf of that Department?

MR LASSIG:  Correct.

DR MELLIFONT:  The statement you have given was in response to a notice to give information which was issued by this Commissions?

MR LASSIG:  Correct.

DR MELLIFONT:  In which a number of questions were asked of you?


DR MELLIFONT:  In fact 35 of them.

MR LASSIG:  A lot.

DR MELLIFONT:  Yes, okay.  Now, your statement is in answer to those questions?

MR LASSIG:  That's correct.

DR MELLIFONT:  Which I take it you answered completely and faithfully to the best of your ability?

MR LASSIG:  I did.

DR MELLIFONT:  I want to touch on something of your educational and employment history before getting into some questions.  You have a Diploma of Education?


DR MELLIFONT:  When did you get that?



MR LASSIG:  Must have been about 1990.

DR MELLIFONT:  You have taught Maths and Science.  You did that from 1992 through 1994?

MR LASSIG:  Yes, in a secondary school when I commenced my teaching career.

DR MELLIFONT:  And you then became an advisory teacher and that was from 1995 through 1998?

MR LASSIG:  Correct, I was an advisory visiting teacher, behaviour, so I supported schools to implement evidence based behaviour support, so the whole school level and also at an individual student level.

DR MELLIFONT:  Where were you located before that?

MR LASSIG:  I was located on the Gold Coast, and in Logan which is south of Brisbane.

DR MELLIFONT:  You were the Principal of the Aspley Special School from 2007 to 2013?

MR LASSIG:  That's correct.

DR MELLIFONT:  And you were also, I think it's Principal at Geebung Special School for ---

MR LASSIG:  Deputy Principal.

DR MELLIFONT:  --- Deputy, thank you, for periods of 2002, 2003, 2006 and 2007?

MR LASSIG:  Correct, and those gaps were because I took some leave to be a CEO for a not for profit organisation supporting students with disability.

DR MELLIFONT:  I see, okay.  Your CV and statement reflects you were a Teaching and Learning Auditor between January 2014 to June 2014?

MR LASSIG:  That's correct.

DR MELLIFONT:  What's that?

MR LASSIG:  That's a role there, I think it's come up in evidence, the previous education hearing, there is a tool called the National School Improvement Tool which has nine domains, which identify the key features of high performing schools.  And in 2014, as a Principal I was asked to conduct teaching and learning audits, which are now called school reviews, that used that tool to provide --- to celebrate how a school is going on its improvement journey, but also to provide recommendations on how they can continue their improvement.

DR MELLIFONT:  I will come to school reviews in due course.


DR MELLIFONT:  You held the role of Executive Director, State Schools Disability and Inclusion Branch, which included the Autism Hub and Reading Centre between January 2016 and December 2018.

MR LASSIG:  That's correct.  I was afforded the opportunity to establish the Department's Autism Hub and Reading Centre, and that was done in partnership with education colleagues, but just as importantly with parents of students, children with autism but also university partners, NGOs and the Autism CRC.

DR MELLIFONT:  That role still exists?

MR LASSIG:  That role still does exist.

DR MELLIFONT:  Who holds that now?

MR LASSIG:  That would be Marie Nelson who is the acting executive director.

DR MELLIFONT:  Is that position in the central office here in Brisbane?

MR LASSIG:  Correct.  They're based at the --- the Autism Hub and Reading Centre is physically based in Woolloongabba in Brisbane but provides a State wide service  
across all seven regions.  Its service also does extend to parents and young people enrolled in non State schools as well.

DR MELLIFONT:  You've had the opportunity to reflect on the evidence that's been led in the Commission this week, I take it?

MR LASSIG:  I certainly have.

DR MELLIFONT:  Having done that, what areas do you believe your Department needs to do better in?

MR LASSIG:  There's probably three areas, and certainly our Department could strengthen in these areas, but in partnership with a number of other organisations and particularly with young people with disability and their families.

The first one, I think there's an opportunity to further strengthen pre service teacher education.  So we've heard from a lot of our colleagues from universities of some of the key evidence based strategies that help to engage and include students with disability.  Many of those courses, there are a small number of those courses as part of university qualifications and I would see that there's an opportunity to further partner with universities to extend the scope of those courses, but probably also include   ensure there's an inclusion lens through all pre service education courses so it becomes embedded in the training.

DR MELLIFONT:  Before you move off that, does that partnership, or that type of partnership, currently exist in any form in Queensland with universities?

MR LASSIG:  Our department has very strong relationships with universities.  My understanding is it's the Queensland College of Teachers that has the greatest influence over the course content for pre service teacher education.

DR MELLIFONT:  Can I just return to the question and ask you answer it more directly, which is, currently does that type of partnership, the partnership you just identified in your oral evidence, currently exist or is it something you need to move towards?

MR LASSIG:  The relationships are in place, but I guess there's the opportunity to further progress the partnership.  So, for example, our university --- our Department has partnered with QUT, and we heard from Professor Graham on Wednesday, and that partnership has meant that a number of principals have received scholarships to complete a Masters in Inclusive Education.  So that's post graduate.  I guess I'm probably emphasising the pre service teacher education component as well.

DR MELLIFONT:  Okay.  You speak of there being an opportunity.  Is there a current intention of the Department to move towards such partnerships?

MR LASSIG:  I'm not aware of one.

DR MELLIFONT:  Is that something you can take on notice?

MR LASSIG:  I certainly can.

DR MELLIFONT:  Thank you.  So that was your first.  Number two?

MR LASSIG:  The second is to further strengthen the voice of students with disability and their parents, and for schools to strengthen their genuine partnerships and valuing parents as partners in their child's education, and leveraging off those strengthened partnerships to move into more the co design stage.  So to partner to address current and emerging issues pertaining to students with disability.

An example of that that I have been involved in was through the Autism Hub.  We saw the need to --- we found in the first six months of operation that it was primarily mothers that came and accessed, that were calling or emailing or accessed the workshops that were offered.  There were very few fathers.  So we identified that as a priority.  We had big sheds so we thought we'd establish a “men's shed”.  We started doing that, and then we started consulting with parents of young people with autism, and they told us "Great idea, but we don't have the time."  So then we worked with them to establish a standard “men's shed” with a special interest group for fathers of autism.  So I guess if we hadn't consulted, we might have assumed what fathers of young people with autism wanted, but through partnering and listening we came up with a model that now means that when fathers have time, they can access some of the supports.

We have professional   well, we have workshops that come out of that, but also it's about coming together with parents that are facing similar circumstances.  So being able to share their story and feel comfortable and safe.

DR MELLIFONT:  Okay.  So, again, you're speaking about your hope and opportunity to strengthen in the areas you've just identified.  Do you know if there are precise current plans of the Department for improvement in that area?  Or is that something you need to take on notice?

MR LASSIG:  I believe that we have a community and parent engagement framework that really emphasises the importance of partnering with parents.  In response to the Disability Review in 2016, the Department's "Every student with disability succeeding plan" has three levers, three key areas, of which one is partnering with parents.  So there is a range of strategies that have been put in place.  We've partnered, for example, with QAI who provided evidence on Monday, we also have partnered with community resource ---

FEMALE SPEAKER:  Might I ask the witness to slow down a little bit?

MR LASSIG:  I'm sorry.

FEMALE SPEAKER:  I'm a little bit slow taking notes.

MR LASSIG:  Apologies.  So part of that was also partnering with Community Resource Unit which gave evidence at the Townsville hearing.

So I guess we've started that work, but there's still a lot of work to do and it has to impact at the school level.  So we can have our system frameworks, but ultimately the partnership that matters is in schools.

COMMISSIONER ATKINSON:  May I interrupt.  You've talked about when you gave specific examples of partnering with parents, or listening to parents or consulting with parents, but when you gave your outline at the beginning of the second hope and expectation, it was to strengthen the voice of students with disability, and their parents.  So what are the plans or what are the expectations of how you would strengthen the voice of students with disability?

MR LASSIG:  The voice of students, and I think we heard a very strong voice earlier today, and I would really like the opportunity to learn more from that witness.  Those opportunities really happen at the school level.  So schools do have structures that give students voice.  They could be structures like school councils and committees, but I guess the voice I'm most interested in is the voice around a student with disability being involved in conversations around the adjustments that they may require and the frequency of those adjustments.

I hosted a conference where we had a panel of students with disability, and we asked them some questions, and my strongest memory from that panel is "Ask us, don't assume."  And we heard from students who said in some subjects they do like an additional adult sitting side by side to support their learning, but in other subjects it's the last thing they want.  And I guess that's been my learning from my career and supporting students with disability in secondary schools, is I probably assumed, I thought I knew what adjustments were best for young people.  But if I went back to a role like that I would certainly start by asking them.

DR MELLIFONT:  Before I move to your third point, are you content to take on notice, as a question on notice to you about if there are current specific initiatives to strengthen the voices of parents and the voices of students with disability that are in play?


DR MELLIFONT:  Okay.  Because you will understand that I, and no doubt the Commission, in our work, are trying to understand what's aspirational and what's actuality, and in that respect that's why I'm asking you to take that question on notice.

MR LASSIG:  Thank you.  I guess one example that is in place is the advisory service through the Autism Hub.  So that is giving a voice to parents of kids with autism.  They can call or email at any time, and then the trained professionals at the  
Autism Hub will be that conduit back to the school and will connect with either an Assistant Regional Director or an appropriate   someone who can influence what is happening at the school level and provide support at the local level.

DR MELLIFONT:  Thank you.  Now the third matter you wanted to raise     (overspeaking)    

MR LASSIG:  It relates to a theme that has come up most days of the hearing this week and it's around supporting schools to continue to implement or to scale up the implementation of evidence based whole school approach to supporting behaviour.  We've heard a lot this week about multi tiered approaches, and we've heard about positive behaviour support.

So in our Department, Positive Behaviour for Learning, I think it was Dr Armstrong on Tuesday afternoon may have shared the various names, or it might have been Shiralee Poed.  In Queensland it's Positive Behaviour for Learning.

So I have, as a Principal, seen the positive impact in terms of engagement, as indicated through reduction in SDAs and suspensions and exclusions.  But also in my current role I have a group of secondary schools who have come together in a community of practice who are implementing PBL, and their data is showing a significant drop in their suspensions and their exclusions for all students, and specifically for students with disability.

So my hope is that we can continue as a Department and other jurisdictions can consider further investment in --- whether it's PBL, but as long as it's an evidence based approach, whole school approach to supporting student behaviour.

DR MELLIFONT:  That is a topic I do intend to come back to later.  Associate Professor Poed's recent research indicates 51 per cent of schools in Queensland have implemented PBL.  Does that accord with your understanding?

MR LASSIG:  I'm aware it's around 50 per cent, and that percentage would be larger in my secondary school, my 25 secondary schools.

DR MELLIFONT:  Okay, why?  Why larger in your area?

MR LASSIG:  It's a good question.  Most of my schools, when I arrived at the end of 2018, had started their --- what we call their PBL journey.  And others were starting on my arrival.  I guess they saw their data, their evidence, I guess, including data and everyday experiences, told them that they had the opportunity to further strengthen their whole school approach and to implement a tiered approach to supporting school behaviour.

CHAIR:  Mr Lassig, where do we find the data demonstrating that there has been a reduction in suspensions and exclusions in schools that have adopted these policies?

MR LASSIG:  So that's something that we could take on notice and provide.  Thank you, Commissioner.

I anecdotally have a behaviour data wall in my office, and I monitor on a weekly basis the numbers of suspensions and exclusions that are occurring in my schools.  And then I also, for example, with exclusions, get email alerts that notify me that a proposed exclusion may occur, and I'm then able to go into OneSchool and scan the information in OneSchool and then speak to the Principal or provide   we have specialist roles and behaviour in the region, then we can also suggest that they connect with the Principal.

CHAIR:  Perhaps that's something that you might take on notice in association with Dr Mellifont and the Office of Solicitors Assisting the Royal Commission.


DR MELLIFONT:  Thank you.  I'm getting an indication from Counsel Assisting the State that that will certainly happen.

Can I just, though, get an understanding of the parameter of your answer?  You spoke about the data of suspensions and exclusions coming down.  You're speaking about your region?

MR LASSIG:  My group of --- I have 25 schools that I partner with.  I have a community of practice in the PBL area for 10 of my secondary schools.

DR MELLIFONT:  What does that mean, the latter part, a community?

MR LASSIG:  So the power of collaboration, I guess, is bringing schools together to learn from each other.  So rather than implementing PBL in isolation and hoping we're doing a good job, we're coming together and learning from each other, sharing strategies to all designed to implement PBL with fidelity and that is the key, implementing any system with fidelity will mean that its impact is greatest.

DR MELLIFONT:  Let's break that down again.  You've got ten schools; do you all get together on a weekly basis or monthly basis or is there a database?

MR LASSIG:  So we will communicate   we come together each term, and part of that, is one school will host, and it's a bit of a “show and tell” to show what strategies they're finding most impactful at their schools, but then that provides the opportunity for conversations and networking and sharing of resources and sharing of ideas as well.

As we learnt earlier in the week, PBL is data driven.  So there are tools, data tools that are used to help determine the level to which the approach is being implemented with fidelity, and that data will tell you the areas that are strong, and the areas that you need to strengthen, and then each school will have what they call a PBL  
Committee, and their job is to address the data trends and implement strategies.

So they might see, for example, that there's a peak in behaviour incidents in a playground and their response would be to have planned activities in that area so that students are engaged in meaningful activities and not making poor choices.

COMMISSIONER ATKINSON:  And is that then assessed by looking at whether or not it's had an impact on that behaviour?

MR LASSIG:  Indeed, Commissioner.  So there is a lot of use of short cycle data sets.  So usually they're fortnightly.  So, in fact, one of my schools, I feel so much a part of their PBL team that I get emailed their PowerPoint of their fortnightly data that they then share at the staff meeting so that they can collaboratively identify ways to address any trends in the data.

DR MELLIFONT:  That's happening for your area, but you can't speak, necessarily, to what's happening for the balance of Queensland?

MR LASSIG:  I can speak to schools that are across Queensland that are implementing PBL with fidelity, that that would be occurring.  But I do not know precisely   exactly what's happening in all schools in Queensland that are implementing PBL.

COMMISSIONER ATKINSON:  Dr Mellifont, I'm going to interrupt.

DR MELLIFONT:  Because I'm not sure if I understand that.

COMMISSIONER ATKINSON:  Did you say only 10 of your 25 schools do this?

MR LASSIG:  That's correct, they are part of that community, and that's more geographical.  So they're more in the   I have schools from --- that stretch 200 kilometres up the coast from Brisbane, so, geographically, and historically, they have strong partnerships.  So they have naturally come together as a community but I guess they needed, because of my knowledge and experience and passion around PBL, I probably encourage that to occur.

COMMISSIONER ATKINSON:  What about the other 15?

MR LASSIG:  Other schools will have PBL in place.  Other schools will have whole school approaches to supporting behaviour, other than PBL.  Most schools will have a tiered approach to supporting behaviour, which we've learnt about this week.  So they will have strategies for all students, they will have targeted strategies for cohorts or groups of students, 15 per cent or so, and then they will have targeted interventions for a small number of students, and I can confidently say that each   all of my 25 schools have that tiered model in place, whether they're a PBL school or not.

DR MELLIFONT:  So I just want to come back to the answer you gave just before Commissioner Atkinson asked that question, so that I can understand what you meant.  Did you mean that if PBL is implemented with fidelity in a school, your expectation is that there would be a downward trend in suspensions and exclusions?  Is that what you meant by your answer?

MR LASSIG:  That can be one of the impacts.  What is clear is that they will be tracking the data, but ---

DR MELLIFONT:  I'll just stop you because I just need to understand what you meant by the last answer.

MR LASSIG:  In the 10 schools that are part of that community there is overall a decline in SDAs.  There's also another important behaviour set that schools collect in OneSchool, which is called minor and major behaviour incidents, and then if we think about lead and lag indicators, we will normally see the impact of strategies in those minor and major incident behaviour.  So minor is usually --- well, each school defines what minor and major behaviours are, but a minor one might be something that is managed in the environment in which it occurs, say in the playground or the classroom.  In many schools, a major would be if there needs to be referral to outside the learning environment or the play environment, say, to a deputy Principal or a Principal.

So that is a rich data set to track the impact of strategies, and that's also at an individual student level, that they will --- when we develop individual behaviour support plans and look at the data to support, to monitor the impact of strategies in that plan, we will be monitoring the frequency and intensity of the behaviour incidents to gauge whether those strategies are impactful.

DR MELLIFONT:  Okay.  I'm going to come to data again a bit later, but we can work with Counsel Assisting the State of Queensland to make sure that we get full understanding of the data which is currently being kept by Queensland moving forward.  So thank you for the agreement to do that.

What I do want to understand, while you're sitting here now, is you talk --- you spoke about having this data wall, so what you're talking about is within your office you have a computer where you've got data coming in.  What I want to ask you is, do all people in your equivalent position across the State have that same data wall or is it just you?

MR LASSIG:  So "data wall" isn't as sophisticated as being electronic.  It's actually laminated cards on a wall that contain information.  And so I have two data walls in my office, one is around tracking achievement of students in all of my schools in the subject of English, in Years 7 to 9 and Prep to 2.  All of the Assistant Regional Directors in my region have a similar data wall around student achievement, and then I also choose to have a data wall that tracks behaviour in the ten schools that are part of the community of PBL.

DR MELLIFONT:  How does the information get there?

MR LASSIG:  It's extracted from OneSchool.


MR LASSIG:  We have a regional PBL coach, so we have a number of regional coaches that support schools to implement PBL with fidelity, and I've partnered with one of those coaches who coaches those ten schools, and they assist with that data.  But that data is freely available at the school level because it comes from the school.

DR MELLIFONT:  So freely available to Principals and educators within the school   


DR MELLIFONT:  --- to access and analyse and act on as they see appropriate?

MR LASSIG:  Correct.

DR MELLIFONT:  Okay, now I want to ask you, be a little bit more specific about a couple of the cases this week.  I won't ask you specifically about Kobe, given there is ongoing litigation outside of this Commission, so it would not be proper for me to do so.  But I do want to ask you about Jack.  Accepting that Jack was pre the implementation of the inclusive policy, we acknowledge that, but what I want to ask you is you would still accept, wouldn't you, that the system could and should have done better for him?


DR MELLIFONT:  Including but not limited to having been verified under the speech/language impairment of EAP categories?

MR LASSIG:  I would not   that's not my area of expertise, so I cannot comment on whether he would meet that verification criteria.

DR MELLIFONT:  Do you accept perhaps consideration ought to be given to it?  Somebody should have thought, "Oh, maybe he comes under the speech/language impairment category"?

MR LASSIG:  I honestly do not know the specific detail about the criteria for the speech/language impairment to be able to say that he could meet that criteria.  Honestly.

DR MELLIFONT:  No, I understand, and I'm not asking you as to whether you could say whether he could meet the criteria, but as to whether somebody ought to have  
thought about looking at it.

MR LASSIG:  What I can say is, in our current environment, he would have been entitled to adjustments, regardless of whether he fitted one of the six EAP categories.  So as per our inclusion policy, any student that requires adjustments to access and participate in learning, should be provided those and will be provided those.

DR MELLIFONT:  I want to bring up the statement of Lesley Theodore, which is STAT.0080.0001.0013 at paragraph 44.  This is where Ms Theodore passed some reflections in respect of Jack's case and she says:

.... there were a number of factors that may have led to a different outcome.  For instance, if school staff had consulted with Sharon, Alex and Jack and implemented their suggestions, it may have led to a different outcome.  If school staff had actually understood the implications of Jack's mixture of diagnoses and been flexible enough to provide the necessary adjustments it may have led to a different outcome.  Jack may have finished school if other students were more accepting of people with different attributes and did not make mean comments.  If teachers understood the impact of a single comment to a student about something out of their control, Jack may have finished school.

Now, Ms Theodore is an extremely experienced educator and Principal Education Officer within the Department of Education Queensland, yes?

MR LASSIG:  Correct.

DR MELLIFONT:  Are you prepared to accept those reflections as being valid?


DR MELLIFONT:  Chair, I'm advised we're having sound difficulties.  Can we adjourn momentarily to fix that issue?

CHAIR:  Yes, you're coming through loud and clear here.  Do you know where the difficulties are?

DR MELLIFONT:  With the interpreters.  I mean, sorry, the interpreters aren't the difficulty, that's where the sound issue is happening.

CHAIR:  All right.  We'll adjourn for a very short time to see whether that can be resolved but we will resume in a couple of minutes.

DR MELLIFONT:  Thank you.

ADJOURNED    [12.35 PM]

RESUMED    [12.44 PM]

CHAIR:  Yes, thank you.

Mr Lassig, I'm sorry for that delay caused by the technical difficulty.  Dr Mellifont will resume her questions to you.

DR MELLIFONT:  Thank you for your acknowledgment in respect of Jack.  In respect of Yarraka and Quaden Bayles, to your knowledge is it the Department's intention to work towards a good relationship with Yarraka to consult in particular with respect to areas of intersectionality with Quaden's Disability with his first Nations Indigenous status?

MR LASSIG:  I'm not specifically aware of that because that's in a different region to me.

DR MELLIFONT:  I see, of course.

MR LASSIG:  If it was a similar situation, I know our region and our Principals would be highly committed to working with that family to not only provide the support that the young person needs, but to play a role in educating that entire school community and possibly other school communities around disability and the impact of bullying.  And I think that witness very clearly said that what we need here is education, more than anything.

DR MELLIFONT:  And you'd agree that it's   that the education needs to take into account in a non siloed way the cultural background of any Indigenous student?


DR MELLIFONT:  I want to move then to some specifics and understanding funding, and I'm going to step through this quite slowly so that we can all be as clear as we can be.

This is on the topic of funding related to students with disabilities.  To start with, each school gets a core allocation of teachers and teacher's aides for every student?

MR LASSIG:  Correct.

DR MELLIFONT:  And that depends on the number of given students at a given school?

MR LASSIG:  Number of enrolments, correct.

DR MELLIFONT:  Thank you.  Then the EAP is used to allocate additional 75 per cent of teachers and teacher's aides in schools, and your statement says for students verified through the EAP as requiring significant educational adjustment?

MR LASSIG:  Correct, so that is the fourth tier of funding.  We talked about the base funding for every student based on enrolments.  The next tier is called “Investing For Success”, which targets students that require the highest level of support to be successful, and that has a literacy and numeracy focus and that's based on enrolments.  However, there are loadings as part of the methodology, and one of the loadings is disability.

DR MELLIFONT:  Okay, just stop with me here.  I'm just going to get to “Investing For Success.”  I just wanted to put this step wise in the way that my brain has it organised.

MR LASSIG:  I'm thinking in the triangle, sorry.

DR MELLIFONT:  Don't worry about the triangle, we have to work with my brain here.  So you have the EAP, and it is used to allocate 75 per cent for additional teachers and teacher's aides in schools for students verified through the EAP as requiring significant adjustment.  That's correct?

MR LASSIG:  Correct.

DR MELLIFONT:  Does that allocation apply in respect of each student verified through EAP or some of them only?

MR LASSIG:  So all students with a disability verified through EAP will be included in that funding model.


MR LASSIG:  Now, your statement, and we'll pull this up, please, STAT.0078.0001.0003, at paragraph 13.  If we can bring it up nice and big, paragraph 13, please.  Wrong statement.  So this is   it's 0078, not 0178.  I'll read it again.  STAT.0078.0001.0001, and it's at 0003.  That's the statement and a couple of pages down, please.  Thank you.  Thank you.

Now, I just want to focus on the word "for" in the second line.  Your statement says the allocation is "for" students verified with EAP.  I'm focusing on a word and I tend to do that, but I'm trying to understand, it doesn't mean that the additional teacher and teacher aide is assigned to that student, correct?

MR LASSIG:  Correct.

DR MELLIFONT:  Okay.  What it does mean is that when a school has a student in respect of which there's an EAP verification, funding will flow into the school?

MR LASSIG:  Correct.

DR MELLIFONT:  Okay.  But the funding received through that loading is not required to be allocated for students with disability in general, much less specifically students with disability verified under EAP.  Is that correct?

MR LASSIG:  It's not attached to an individual student, correct.

DR MELLIFONT:  But it's actually not even required to be spent on students with disability in a general sense?

MR LASSIG:  The entire quantum of resources a school has available to them is expected to be invested in all students, including students with disability.

DR MELLIFONT:  So the answer to my question is yes?


DR MELLIFONT:  Okay.  It certainly must therefore follow that it's not required to be spent on the particular student with disability who has been verified?

MR LASSIG:  No, it's not attached to an individual student.

DR MELLIFONT:  Okay, thank you.

CHAIR:  The questions so far, I think, have assumed that this is money, but as I understood the previous evidence the allocation is not primarily money, it's teacher's aides or teachers, is that right?


CHAIR:  Dr Mellifont might be coming to it but I thought I might have missed something there.

MR LASSIG:  Yes, Commissioner, they're human resources, so they're teachers, specialist teachers, teacher aides, as opposed to dollars.

DR MELLIFONT:  Okay, again, I better just clarify that.  Is it allocation for spending on teachers and teacher's aides, or is it actual allocation of teachers and teacher aides?

MR LASSIG:  It's an allocation of 10 teachers and 50 teacher aide hours.

DR MELLIFONT:  I understand.  All right.  Now, in respect of the other ---

CHAIR:  I'm sorry to do this, but I'd like to understand a little more.  The word  
"additional", since we're focusing on words, in line 1, what do we mean by "75 per cent of additional"?  What does that mean?  Who decides how many teacher’s aides and teachers are going to be allocated on the basis of the EAP assessments?

MR LASSIG:  So the additional is referring to that there's a base allocation.  There's also the investing for success that we get to talk about, an additional layer of specialist roles, which is called WSS SLR, which is Whole School Support   Student Learning Resource.  So the term additional means that those additional resources for students with a verified disability through EAP is in addition to those other three resources that are allocated.

CHAIR:  Thank you.  And is the quantum of the additional resources uniform for each student with disability who is assessed under EAP, or does it vary according to the nature of the disability or what?

MR LASSIG:  Thank you, Commissioner.  It varies based on the frequency of adjustments that a student with disability requires to access and participate.  So there are four   there's a methodology, but essentially, across the State, all the profiles, so those adjustments are captured in an Education Adjustment Program profile, and all of the profiles are looked aggregated across the system and then organised into four quartiles.  And the first and second   the third and fourth quartile, if the student's adjustments fit there, would receive more significant amount of that resource.

So it's based on the frequency of adjustments a student needs.

CHAIR:  And you can provide us, presumably, with the formula?

MR LASSIG:  Yes.  The methodology to determine that.  I do believe it is one of the fact sheets that's included in my statement.

CHAIR:  Good, thank you.

DR MELLIFONT:  Thank you.  So we're still on the additional teacher and teacher aides.  The other 25 per cent is allocated based on the index of relative socioeconomic disadvantage, is that right?

MR LASSIG:  Correct.

DR MELLIFONT:  And that's not a disability related allocation?

MR LASSIG:  No, it's based on enrolment numbers and the consideration for socioeconomic index.

DR MELLIFONT:  Now, I want to turn to another source which is the “Investing For Success”, and bear with me as I explain to you how I understand it and you can tell me if I've got it wrong.

Okay, “Investing For Success” is based on student enrolment numbers?

MR LASSIG:  Correct.

DR MELLIFONT:  Plus there is a loading for some students identified through the EAP.

MR LASSIG:  Correct, and other students including Indigenous students and EALD students.  So there are other cohorts of students included in that loading.

DR MELLIFONT:  Is there a methodology, for example, if you have a student   no, I withdraw that question, I'm sorry.  All right.  So your statement, again, says   uses the word "some", that the loading is for “some students” identified through EAP.

MR LASSIG:  Could you please refer to that?

DR MELLIFONT:  I will bring you there.  If we can bring up paragraph 14, please.

MR LASSIG:  I would need to take that on notice, why "some" is used there.

DR MELLIFONT:  That might be an error or you need to go and work out whether it's for all students under the EAP or in fact just some?

MR LASSIG:  Yeah, I'll need to go and confirm that.  Thank you.

DR MELLIFONT:  Okay.  And once again   in the context of this, we are talking about dollars here, under investing for success we are talking about dollars?

MR LASSIG:  That's correct.

DR MELLIFONT:  The dollars under the loading in the “Investing For Success” program is not required to be allocated only for students with disability.  Do I understand that correctly?

MR LASSIG:  No.  Sorry, that's correct, it's not just for those students.  It's for all students but targeting students that require the greatest level of support to engage and achieve.  So, for example, schools will use those funds to either employ a speech/language pathologist or top up their allocations.  So a school might get 0.6 FTE of a speech/language pathologist and they might use those funds to invest in a full time speech/language pathologist.

DR MELLIFONT:  Okay.  So it's the EAP verification which triggers the loading but the decision about how that is spent is at principal level?

MR LASSIG:  Correct.

DR MELLIFONT:  Now, I think you called it WSS SLR and I think of something  
very different when that word is used.  So the whole school support student learning resources, that --- again, we're talking about funding there, funding allocation to the schools?

MR LASSIG:  No, they're resources.

DR MELLIFONT: Actual resources.

MR LASSIG:  They're people, they're roles, like guidance officers and behaviour support and Indigenous support staff.

DR MELLIFONT:  Okay.  And in terms of the allocation of those resources under WSS SLR, are there disability related criteria or considerations?

MR LASSIG:  The methodology is based on 80 per cent of enrolments and then 20 per cent of that resource is based on enrolments with the weighting   what I would call ICSEA, the Socio Educational Index.  It's the students with disability   numbers of students with disability EAP are not included in that, in that methodology.

DR MELLIFONT:  I just want to ask you a couple of questions before we break for lunch.  We know that the EAP verifies students who require significant educational adjustments in six disability categories, correct?

MR LASSIG:  Correct.

DR MELLIFONT:  And we know that those categories were transferred from the previous allocation model.  You say that in your statement.

MR LASSIG:  Correct.

DR MELLIFONT:  What was that prior model?

MR LASSIG:  Ascertainment.

DR MELLIFONT:  Okay.  And that was a model that was in existence up until approximately 2004, 2005?

MR LASSIG:  Correct.  That's my understanding.

DR MELLIFONT:  Okay.  So your understanding is   sorry.  Your understanding is those categories have been carried across into EAP and have remained within the funding model since that point in time   since then, up until now?

MR LASSIG:  That's my understanding.

DR MELLIFONT:  Okay.  Commissioner, is that a convenient time?

CHAIR:  To adjourn until 2:00pm Brisbane time, do you mean?


CHAIR:  And Mr Lassig will return then, I take it?


CHAIR:  All right, thank you very much.  Mr Lassig, thank you, and if you would be good enough to return by 2:00pm we will continue with your evidence, thank you.  And then, Dr Mellifont, do we plan to have an adjournment after Mr Lassig's evidence is complete or do we move directly into closing addresses?

DR MELLIFONT:  We will be in a position to move directly into closing addresses but we, of course, in the Commission's hands as to whether a short break is desirable at that stage.

CHAIR:  All right, we'll work that out when we come to it.  Thank you very much.  We will adjourn until 2.00 pm Brisbane time.  Thank you.

ADJOURNED    [1.01 PM]

RESUMED    [2.00 PM]

CHAIR:  Yes, thank you, Dr Mellifont.

DR MELLIFONT:  Thank you.  Can I take you to paragraph 16 of your statement, and you've already touched on the other resources you refer to in paragraph 16 in the course of your evidence thus far.  What I want to ask you is, is a student less likely to get the assistance of these other resources in the absence of being verified under the EAP?

MR LASSIG:  Principals are expected to provide the supports to all students and provide adjustments as they require.  So I wouldn't say that that would be normal practice, especially now that the awareness amongst principals around the broader definition of disability as per the DDA and the work in the NCCD space, Nationally Consistent Collection of Data, is that principals are really clear now, well, in my region, close to one in five students require adjustments.  So they would be thinking about that.  Most --- principals now would be thinking of that broader group of students in providing support to students.

DR MELLIFONT:  Let me bring you back.  Okay, you can only speak to your understanding of principals' understanding in the particular areas you work within, do you accept that?

MR LASSIG:  Correct.

DR MELLIFONT:  Okay.  Is it your experience in the past that sometimes students without an EAP verification were less likely to receive the types of supports referred to in paragraph 16?  Is the answer to that yes?


DR MELLIFONT:  Okay.  Within your remit now, does that distinction still play out?

MR LASSIG:  It may still play out, but the practice has certainly changed in terms of looking at the broader group of students that require adjustments.

DR MELLIFONT:  Is it your expectation that there should not be a distinction in the provision of those services as between students with the EAP verification and those without?

MR LASSIG:  Absolutely.


COMMISSIONER ATKINSON:  May I ask a question?  You said one in five students in your area require adjustments?

MR LASSIG:  Yes, as per the Nationally Consistent Collection of Data for Students with Disability   

COMMISSIONER ATKINSON:  My question is ---

MR LASSIG:  --- even Queensland, sorry, that's 18.3 per cent.

COMMISSIONER ATKINSON:  My question is, how many students in your area have an EAP verification?

MR LASSIG:  In Queensland that's approximately 6 per cent of students.  So that will vary from school to school, Commissioner.

COMMISSIONER ATKINSON:  So there's a huge difference between those with EAP verification and those who actually need adjustments?

MR LASSIG:  Correct.


DR MELLIFONT:  And your answer then was just --- was 6 per cent across  
Queensland, what about in your region?  You don't have disaggregation for that?

MR LASSIG:  We can disaggregate data for students with disability, but I cannot tell you the exact percentage in my schools.

DR MELLIFONT:  That's something we could find out on notice?

MR LASSIG:  Correct.

DR MELLIFONT:  Take you to paragraph 41 of your statement, please.  And it speaks about the Department's Early Childhood Development Program.  I'm not going to get into the details of it because we have information before the Commission already.  But you observe that that program targets its supports for children who have or are suspected of having, and then you list them out, that they match with the six EAP categories?  Is that right?

MR LASSIG:  They don't necessarily match, but they may have a diagnosis that matches the EAP categories, or they are suspected of having one of those disabilities.  So it may not be exact match.

DR MELLIFONT:  Okay, my question was clumsy.  I'll ask it again.

The six EAP categories are: autism, intellectual disability, speech/language impairment, vision impairment, physical impairment, and hearing impairment.  And they're the six things we see in paragraph 41?

MR LASSIG:  Correct.

DR MELLIFONT:  And you say that that program targets its support for children who have or are suspected of having one of those disabilities?

MR LASSIG:  Correct.

DR MELLIFONT:  So I take it that there's a lower threshold by reference to the term "suspected" in order to receive that target   to be a target of that program, is that correct?

MR LASSIG:  That's correct.  A term that is used in this area is "developmental delay," so there mightn't be any specific diagnosis, but there's certainly evidence to show that the young people, the children are not meeting developmental milestones that might require significant early intervention and support.

DR MELLIFONT:  So what is the rationale for targeting support under that program to those six categories?

MR LASSIG:  I'm not aware of the rationale, sorry.

DR MELLIFONT:  So who would you expect within the Department would know the rationale for that?

MR LASSIG:  It would be within the Disability Inclusion Policy Department, but also maybe part of the early childhood   the early childhood area of that Department as well.

DR MELLIFONT:  Okay.  So I want to move into funding resource allocation for students with disability beyond that program.  To you knowledge, does the Department target allocation of resources to disabilities within those categories in other ways --- and I don't need to go back over the loadings --- I mean in terms of what actually gets delivered to the students?

MR LASSIG:  Can you rephrase that, sorry?

DR MELLIFONT:  Does the Department target allocation of resources to those six categories generally?

MR LASSIG:  As --- we don't want to go over all the talk, but in that fourth tier, in the student with disability funding, yes.

DR MELLIFONT:  Okay.  So --- tell me if this is above your pay grade and we'll find out who we need to ask this question --- so I'm going to suggest to you that targeting allocation in that way has the potential to operate arbitrarily and unfairly.  I'm going to do so by way of an example.  Take a child with Tourette's who involuntarily verbalises and lashes out by reason of his Tourette's.  Had he done so because of autism, he would perhaps receive more support than in circumstances where he doesn't fit within the category.  Do you accept that that targeting  

MR LASSIG:  I would expect, and my understanding in my schools, is that regardless of whether a student has a verified disability in EAP, that we would be providing the adjustments, and we have heard cases this week where those adjustments have not been provided and we need to do better for all students.  The practice right now  

CHAIR:  Mr Lassig, this is something about your evidence that I haven't understood and I'm sure it's to do with my failure to follow.  You, in answer to a question from Dr Mellifont some time ago, said that Jack would today receive assistance, that is support, and adjustments, although he didn't at the time, and you said, I think, that he would receive the support and adjustments notwithstanding that even with Tourette's he would not fit within the six categories.  Let's leave to the side the debate about whether he had a relevant speech impediment.  I'm struggling to understand, in the light of your evidence, how the assistance would be provided to Jack currently if he does not fit one of the six criteria.

MR LASSIG:  In our inclusion policy, it's clear that all students should be provided the adjustments they need to access and succeed in the curriculum.  So if Jack was in  
one of my schools, we would be collecting evidence around his learning, talking to his parents, talking to Jack himself, and ascertaining what support or scaffolding he would need.  So, for Jack, in a school, and they were strategies that were quite routine in my last school, and that might be a space where Jack could go to regulate or to have free movement.  It might be that he might use some fidget toys, for want of a better word, or spinners, to help regulate his behaviour in class.

So those sort of adjustments, I'm aware, would be put in place for a student like Jack --- and we shouldn't generalise, but they are, you know, a lot of the adjustments we talk about don't require additional resources, they require talking to the student, their parents, specialists, and considering how they're best put in place.

CHAIR:  But assuming Jack did require additional resources for adjustment, where would those additional resources come from?  And I'm prompted to ask that because when I look at the pyramid that covers the four categories that you've been referring to in Exhibit E to your statement, which is the Frequently Asked Question document, I don't see any reference to additional resources that may be available through the inclusion program for students with disability.

MR LASSIG:  So those additional resources could be sourced and funded through the school's budget, or the school could apply to the region for additional teacher or teacher aide time.  Quite often those requests are made to support the implementation of, for example, an individual behaviour support plan, and it may be a request for supporting a teacher aide to support a student who may need support with their behaviour.  So it would either come from the school.  There's nothing stopping a school Principal allocating existing school funding or resources to support someone like Jack.  If those resources are limited in the school, then they would go to the region and ask for an additional resource, and those come through the assistant regional director.  And then also there would be those specialist roles within the region who can provide some specialist advice around the adjustments as well.  So that might be an     (overspeaking)     coach.

CHAIR:  On the basis of the evidence you've given, again as I understand it, on how I understand it, if the school applied and there was some additional resources in the form of a teacher or there were teacher's aide or whatever, it would be up to the principal to determine where that resource is actually allocated?

MR LASSIG:  When it comes to --- the application for additional resource is very clear about how that resource would be used and as I referred to before   sorry.

CHAIR:  I wonder about that because I haven't actually seen anything in writing which compels a Principal to act in that way.

MR LASSIG:  There is a template and part of template in our region is to explicitly describe how the additional resource would be used.  My involvement in those conversations, I'm not the decision maker, and my conversations with principals is that my belief should be that they, to ensure those resources are used to support  
provide adjustments, they should be to support a plan that has evidence based strategies that the school team can be reasonably confident will have the impact that they're looking for.

CHAIR:  And what budget does the decision maker draw upon for these additional resources over and above the pyramid?

MR LASSIG:  So --- and look, that's not part of my role in the region, so I do know there is a bucket of funding to meet emergent needs in schools.

CHAIR:  Okay, thank you.

COMMISSIONER GALBALLY:  Excuse me.  I wonder if I could follow up the Chair's question, please, by asking about compulsion or, you know, who can insist that Principals act accordingly to use the resources in the way that you've described?  Or is it their discretion and their decision only?  Where does the accountability lie on that?

MR LASSIG:  I guess the accountability is around Principals are obligated to meet their legislative requirements and to align their practice with policy and procedure, and I guess within that there is a level of trust that Principals do enact that responsibility.  Part of the Assistant Regional Director role would be to have conversations around how resources are being used, particularly for students with disability.  The school reviews that we talked about, that each school undertakes each four years, has one area that's called “targeted use of resources”.  So that looks at that   the school is investing funds aligned with their priorities but also aligned with the expectations of the Department.  And in our region, and what I'm doing on Monday, in a regional school, is we also have started doing an inclusion scan assessment process, which is designed to support schools to identify how they can strengthen their inclusive   approach to inclusive education, and that also has a line of inquiry that looks at how the budget, the finances and the resources are being allocated to students with disability.


DR MELLIFONT:  Just need to come back to that template.  Where do we find the documented mandatory reporting requirement for Principals up the line through the Department so that the Department can ensure that the additional funding you spoke of was, in fact, spent for the stated purpose?  If there isn't one, tell us that.

MR LASSIG:  The only evidence that would be available would be plans that are recorded on OneSchool that show strategies but they will not link the implementation of those strategies with a targeted resource or funding source.

DR MELLIFONT:  So is the answer to my question that there is not, to your knowledge, such a mandated documentary accountability process?

MR LASSIG:  That's correct.  That you could specifically track how those funds are being used.  There are school audits every four years that does track that targeted funding dollars are used for the intended purpose.  But we're talking about generally human resources in this case.

DR MELLIFONT:  I think I'm lost.  I want to know whether, in respect of that   you spoke about the template which speaks to essentially a documentation that the money for the additional   that the money from the requests for additional funding has been spent for the stated purpose, is there a specific reporting requirement in respect of that that goes up the Department ---


DR MELLIFONT:  Thank you.  Okay.  You spoke before about there being conversations with principals, and then you spoke about checks as to investing funds but in accordance with the priorities of the school and in alignment with the Department.  On that, the priorities of the school will differ school to school?

MR LASSIG:  Correct.

DR MELLIFONT:  How many Principals are there in Queensland?

MR LASSIG:  Approximately 1,250.

DR MELLIFONT:  How many schools?

MR LASSIG:  State School Principals.


MR LASSIG:  So that many schools.

DR MELLIFONT:  Okay.  Okay, so   now I'm going back a few questions, and what I want to do is encapsulate what I understand to be your position.  Your expectation under the current lay of the land, under the inclusive policy, is that all students should be provided adjustments on the basis of their need, irrespective of whether or not they have verification under EAP.  Is that correct?

MR LASSIG:  That's correct.

DR MELLIFONT:  Do you know, then, why the Department makes people, that is teachers, Principals, parents, go to the time, effort, money, of getting a verification?

MR LASSIG:  Can you reword that?  That was more of a statement, sorry.

DR MELLIFONT:  I want to understand if you know why, in circumstances where your expectation under the current inclusive policy is that students with disability are  
to get adjustments irrespective of whether they've got any EAP verification, why, then, do you understand the Department to require people to go through the process of an EAP verification?

MR LASSIG:  No, I don't know.  And I guess the one remaining recommendation of the disability review is around reviewing the resourcing model, and that is yet to be completed because the Department was waiting for the roll out of NDIS to see how that   whether there was any crossover.  So I guess that would be something that was called out in the Disability Review in 2016, and is something that the Department needs to consider when they review the resourcing model.

CHAIR:  Just to be clear about it, I just want to make sure that the import of Dr Mellifont's question is clear.  As I understand the implication in Dr Mellifont's question, is that there is no point whatsoever to the EAP procedure if the position that is adopted in theory at a practice is that every child with disability will get the supports, reasonable supports or adjustment that child needs.  You understood that to be the import of Dr Mellifont's question?

MR LASSIG:  I understand that, and I guess that is what's happening as part of the Nationally Consistent Collection of Data, is that all students, regardless of whether they have a disability within EAP, that's all put to the side and it's about what are the frequency of adjustments for those students that are being provided.

DR MELLIFONT:  I want to come to that recommendation and ask more questions on this before I move to the next topic.  The recommendation that you refer to, this is in QLD.9999.0007.0240 and recommendation 6 3, which is at 0267.  Can we bring up 6 3?  That's the recommendation you're speaking of.

MR LASSIG:  That's correct.

DR MELLIFONT:  We note there it says that the recommendation is for further review?

MR LASSIG:  Correct.

DR MELLIFONT:  Now, you're aware that this Deloitte report was February 2017?


DR MELLIFONT:  Okay.  You can't see a need to wait, can you, to get rid of the EAP verification?  You, as an educator, in your role, sitting in your space, doing what you do every day, there's no need to wait, is there?

MR LASSIG:  Ideally, no.  We should be doing everything possible to ensure that students with disability are provided with the supports they need and resources shouldn't get in the way.  I guess my understanding, because, I mean, I'm in a regional role now, not in that system role, is that learning more about the role out of  
NDIS and that crossover, in and out of the school, what supports were in, what supports were out, as well as some Federal bilateral agreements have impacted on the timing of that.  And that would be the extent of my knowledge of the timing.

DR MELLIFONT:  Who do we ask, so far as you know, in the Department to get some more specific answers about how and what they're doing on 6 3, do you know?

MR LASSIG:  That would be Deb Dunstone, Assistant Director General, Disability and Inclusion.

DR MELLIFONT:  Okay.  I want to bring this question back to you living and breathing in doing the work that you do each day and ask you whether you agree with me that these are some potential advantages that might flow in getting rid of that verification requirement, okay?


DR MELLIFONT:  Parents and caregivers won't have to go and seek to get a diagnosis of their child within one of those diagnoses, would you agree that's a potential benefit?


DR MELLIFONT:  Okay.  Educators within the school, whether that be the teachers, the learning support people, the Heads of Special Education, won't have to spend time working through the EAP verification process, they can spend that time on something else?


DR MELLIFONT:  And I'm not sure if you heard the evidence of Sharon and Alex, but they spoke of essentially having to spend a lot of money, money they did not have, to try and get a diagnosis to fit Jack.

MR LASSIG:  And that's not good enough.

DR MELLIFONT:  That's not good enough.  And another potential benefit is that it might remove the risk of a child being diagnosed in autism where perhaps a better or preferable diagnosis might be something else.

MR LASSIG:  I'm not in a position to have an opinion on that.  That would be more of a specialist's opinion.

DR MELLIFONT:  If I can put it this way, you, as an educator, regard it as being absolutely critical that if there is a diagnosis, it is the correct one?

MR LASSIG:  Absolutely.

DR MELLIFONT:  So that you can then be, in an informed way, and --- in a properly informed way, make decisions about what adjustments to provide?

MR LASSIG:  Correct.  I always said, as a Principal to my staff, that the diagnosis helps inform those adjustments, but we need to get to know the student and we need to know their needs and we need to know what helps their learning and what hinders.  So regardless of diagnosis, we are always focused on knowing our students and knowing their needs and meeting those needs.

DR MELLIFONT:  And I accept that there's more to it than the diagnosis, but having an incorrect diagnosis works directly against your objective as an educator in making informed decisions for that child, doesn't it?

MR LASSIG:  I can't fully agree with that statement because if I've got a young person with a diagnosis of autism, every student, every person with autism is very different.  So their needs and therefore their adjustments will be very different and sometimes different on a daily basis.  So that autism diagnosis at times for educators in the classroom, it's never ignored, but it's in the background because we're looking to meet the needs of the young person that is in front of us.

DR MELLIFONT:  I think perhaps you might slightly misunderstand my question or I've asked it badly.


DR MELLIFONT:  Your educator, who is making decisions about adjustments will take into account, as one factor, a recorded diagnosis for that student?


DR MELLIFONT:  And if it's wrong, then that can lead to that educator making ill informed decisions because they're taking into account incorrect information?  That is a proposition.

MR LASSIG:  Yeah, and that's the position that I don't have a clear answer to because that   the diagnosis is quite often when the young person is young, it usually doesn't change whereas the needs of the young person year-on-year does change and teachers are genuinely focused on meeting those needs that they're presented with, and those opportunities that they're presented with, as opposed to focusing on the diagnosis.

DR MELLIFONT:  That's your expectation of what teachers are able to do and what you would expect of your teachers?

MR LASSIG:  It's more my personal experience.


MR LASSIG:  Not my expectation.

DR MELLIFONT:  All right.  Of the teachers that you have worked with?


DR MELLIFONT:  Okay, thank you.  I want to come then to decision making, please.  I think we have a clearly established that once funding is allocated it's up to the principal to make decisions about how it's used, yes?


DR MELLIFONT:  Okay.  And the Departmental expectation and your expectation would be that they're making sound decisions, that it's spent well for the school student cohort.

MR LASSIG:  Yes, as a system we trust our principals to make those informed, local decisions.

DR MELLIFONT:  And that is --- I'll come back to that.  How is the effectiveness of the use of those resources objectively measured, or is it not?

MR LASSIG:  At our highest level, the Every Student Succeeding plan has four measures around reducing SDAs, which is suspensions and exclusions; lifting academic achievement as indicated through report card data, so A to E; increasing the number of kids   students with disability that receive the Queensland Certificate of Education, which is a Year 12 attainment level   attainment that recognises 13 years of successful schooling; and also attending full time.

So those measures are collected from a system level.  There is a board that overlooks that Every Student with --- Succeeding plan, and the implementation of the plan, and they are provided at a system level with how we are tracking towards those measures.  Those are also reported to regions, so each region is provided from Disability Inclusion Branch a report card, so it's quite nice for educators to receive a report card rather than the other way around, and they show how all the schools in that region are tracking towards those four measures.  And then at a school level, they are available in OneSchool but schools may also have additional data sets and they are provided with a report card that shows the performance overall.  So when I say performance, I mean attendance, behaviour, achievement of students with disability using that broader definition.  So it's that 18.3 per cent in my region compared to the performance of students without disability.  And as an ARD, and all ARDs across the State, will use that data to have informed conversations with principals.

DR MELLIFONT:  Okay, I need to break that down a bit.

MR LASSIG:  It's a lot, I know, I'm sorry.

DR MELLIFONT:  I'll bring up QLD.9999.0007.0450.  This is the Every Student with Disability Succeeding.  And I would like brought up at 0451.  And when it's brought up, you will see that it's got those four measures that you've spoken of in the top right hand corner, if we can bring those up, we will measure our success by.  The first one is improving the A E performance for students with disability.  What's A E?

MR LASSIG:  So that's report card.  So that's evidence of learning against the Australian curriculum in Prep to Year 10.  And success in senior subjects.

DR MELLIFONT:  Right.  Now, does the Department measure success by student wellbeing?

MR LASSIG:  It does.  And my understanding is we're currently looking at some wellbeing   some way of collecting data across the system consistently across schools to measure that.  I have schools that collected locally, so there are tools like - Tell Them From Me - that some schools use that are focused on wellbeing.  Each year, students are invited to, and staff and parents, to participate in a school opinion survey, and there are some wellbeing survey items in those but they're not as specific as other tools that I imagine the Department's exploring.

DR MELLIFONT:  To break that down, currently, in terms of deliberate measurables, wellbeing is not within the Every Student with Disability Succeeding, that's correct so far, isn't it?

MR LASSIG:  That's correct.  The Department State School Improvement Strategy, the previous version was submitted in the November hearing, has been updated to highlight “wellbeing” as well as “inclusion”, as two key priorities for the region   for the system.  So “inclusion” and “wellbeing” are highlighted as system priorities.

DR MELLIFONT:  Okay.  But not at this stage part of an embedded process to deliver a measurable?  Is that correct?

MR LASSIG:  Correct, not at a system level.  It may reside at school level.

DR MELLIFONT:  Okay.  And who can give us the specifics as to precisely what and when it's going to happen in that respect, and in respect of the mental health and wellbeing points you raised in your previous question?

MR LASSIG:  Can I take that question on notice because that responsibility may reside across a number of branches within the Department.

DR MELLIFONT:  Okay.  Thank you.  Excuse me.

All right, can I take you, please, to paragraph 48.  And this is something you  
mentioned before.  So you speak about:

The Department operates resource allocation models rather than rules.  Resources and funding are provided to schools as a pool.  School principals, in consultation with their community, have the autonomy to decide how resourcing is used in their school to meet the needs of all students.  The Department puts trust in principals to make sound funding decisions at the local level.

You made that observation before.

You'd accept, just as there are good lawyers and bad lawyers, there are principals who are very good and there are principals who might not be so good.  You accept that?

MR LASSIG:  Confidence and capability of our principals will vary.

DR MELLIFONT:  Of course.  And they're operating within a current system which appears to place some emphasis on the EAP verifications?


DR MELLIFONT:  Okay.  And would you accept that that current system might influence the way in which principals go about the way in which they allocate resources?

MR LASSIG:  My experience, and I'm calling back on my experience as a principal, I would often look at the quantum of resource I had, and then we'd make sure that they were allocated in a way that met the needs of all students in my school.  And I would try to do that in a transparent and collaborative way, and I would also try and involve my parent body in that through a school P&C, or a school council.

DR MELLIFONT:  I'll return to the question, because I understand you answered it from the perspective of what you would do and how you would see it.  But you've been in the system for a long time, okay, do you accept the proposition that a system, which appears to place emphasis on EAP verifications, might influence the way in which principals make their decisions about how to spend money and allocate resources for students with disability?

MR LASSIG:  Yes, it may.

DR MELLIFONT:  Okay.  Now, in terms of that trust that you say the Department puts in principals to make those decisions, and I take it that similarly that applies to adjustments provided to students on an individual basis, there's trust put in principals at that level, is that correct?


DR MELLIFONT:  I want to understand, with some precision, the support that the Department has in place in respect of that trust which it places in principals --- very badly asked.

What exact training do students with principals receive on a mandatory basis in respect of education of students with disability?

MR LASSIG:  Just to clarify your question, is it “what training do principals get”?


MR LASSIG:  Okay.  So there is   well, there's online training available, but also   and that's through the DSE, it's on the NCCD website.

DR MELLIFONT:  Just pause there for a moment.  But there's no mandatory requirement within the Department?

MR LASSIG:  No, but ---

DR MELLIFONT: --- for Principals to do that?

MR LASSIG:  --- what is mandatory with it is to do Code of Conduct training and ethical decision making is a key part of that training, and there are examples within that training around ethical decisions around the allocation of resources.

DR MELLIFONT:  Okay.  So firstly, your answer was missed because I --- we spoke over each other, but it's okay, we can go back.  The online training is not mandatorily required by the Department, correct?


DR MELLIFONT:  And not tracked by the Department, correct?

MR LASSIG:  Yes, well, a register --- oh, the online training?



DR MELLIFONT:  Okay.  All right.

Now, I understand that principals have to do Code of Conduct training, I understand that they have an ethical decision making component with respect to that.  Is there specific focused training in respect of that on educating students with disability, decisions about adjustments, decisions about funding and resource allocation?

MR LASSIG:  There isn't specific training, but there are fact sheets and sources to support online information.  But those topics are quite often embedded in what we call principal business days.  So when principals come together in a region or in a cluster, that we   there's a professional learning focus.  So the Assistant Director General, Deb Dunstone, and myself have presented across those days at the regions, that work continues now that I'm in a different role, and they are very much targeted around the implementation of the Inclusive Education Policy.  They may touch on adjustments, but they would not go into great detail in terms of how those adjustments, and the nature and frequency of adjustments.

DR MELLIFONT:  I'm mindful of the time, so I'm going to ask this:  insofar as training is provided to principals in whatever form, there will be documents available within the Department that we could ask for and receive?

MR LASSIG:  There would be examples of agendas that have topics of professional learning included in those agendas, yes.

DR MELLIFONT:  And anything else in terms of a documentary trail about that training?

MR LASSIG:  There could be PowerPoint presentations, for example, which show what themes have been covered in the professional learning.

DR MELLIFONT:  And is the State prepared to take those issues on notice?  Thank you.  The list is getting long.  Excuse me.

COMMISSIONER ATKINSON:  But then, given the percentage of students who have disabilities, this is not surprising that the list of questions we have might have is getting long.

MR LASSIG:  Correct, Commissioner.

FEMALE SPEAKER:  I wasn't being critical, Commissioner   

DR MELLIFONT:  Oh, no, I'm sorry, I'm sorry.

Okay, can I take you, please, to paragraph 53.  And this might fall within the earlier discussions about the data that's available from the Department which will be the subject of further follow up with you and the State.  But you speak about "Principals, in consultation with their ARD", which is Assistant Regional Director   

MR LASSIG:  Assistant Regional Director, the role I'm in.

DR MELLIFONT:  --- thank you:

.... track the impact of funding resources for students with disability through the monitoring of progress towards the four measures outlined in the Every  
Student With Disability Succeeding Plan.

Which we've just gone to.  What I want to understand is the next sentence, just wait for it.

This is done through disaggregating key data sets for all students and analysing the performance of cohorts of students including students with disability.

So, first question, are the key data sets the four measurable outcomes that we've just taken you to in the Every Student with Disability Succeeding plan?


DR MELLIFONT:  Is that data capable of disaggregation for First Nations students?


DR MELLIFONT:  Is it capable for disaggregation for culturally and linguistically diverse students?


DR MELLIFONT:  Is it capable of disaggregation by type of disability?


DR MELLIFONT:  There you go, that was faster than I thought!

MR LASSIG:  We can start again!

DR MELLIFONT:  All right.

What training is given to principals about how to disaggregate and interpret data?

MR LASSIG:  That's primarily the role of the Assistant Regional Director.  So I would be involved, every time I'm in a school I would model a data conversation.  So we have an interactive business intelligence tool which is a database where we can do that disaggregation, and we can look at the attendance or achievement of students with disability, for example, and compare that to students without a disability.  So that would be modelled.

There has been what we call Data Literacy Training that has been offered for principals as well as for Assistant Regional Directors as well.  So it's all about having that data literacy because we can collect a lot of data, but if we don't have the skills to analyse it and use it to inform practice, we're wasting a lot of time.  So there is professional learning, they would learn from colleagues, each school would normally have - 
-- some schools have data coaches, usually medium to large schools will have a person who is their data expert for the school.  So they would provide that advice and support but once again, demonstrate how the data could be best analysed.

DR MELLIFONT:  Okay, so let me break that down a bit.  Have you received specific training in data analysis?


DR MELLIFONT:  You have.

MR LASSIG:  As Assistant Regional Director I have.

DR MELLIFONT:  Is it compulsory for Assistant Regional Directors to receive data training?

MR LASSIG:  It's happened in a way that every Assistant Regional Director has had that training.

DR MELLIFONT:  To my question, is it to your understanding that it's compulsory, because sometimes people leave jobs?

MR LASSIG:  No, it's not compulsory.

DR MELLIFONT:  It's not compulsory, thank you.  Excuse me for a moment.

MR LASSIG:  You're all right.

DR MELLIFONT:  I'm going to turn now, please, to the topic of reasonable adjustments.

Who is it that decides whether a student gets an adjustment or not?  A student with disability gets an adjustment or not?

MR LASSIG:  It's a collaborative decision because usually it's not one person in isolation making that decision.  So the classroom teacher is critical and would have a large input into which adjustments.  Then specialist teachers would provide input and then deputies and principals.

DR MELLIFONT:  Okay.  Your statement speaks about   says that a teacher may consider whether adjustments have been enabled to access to the curriculum  

MR LASSIG:  Could you please provide the  

DR MELLIFONT:  I will, sorry.

MR LASSIG:  Thank you.

DR MELLIFONT:  The one thing I haven't made a note of, I'm sorry.  Won't be a moment.

COMMISSIONER ATKINSON:  While you're looking for that, could I ask, you listed the various members of staff who might have an input into adjustments that might be made.  What about parents and children?

MR LASSIG:  Absolutely.  And sorry, Commissioner, I should have started with that, that consultation with parents and, when appropriate, students, is usually the starting point of those decisions.

COMMISSIONER ATKINSON:  When would it not be appropriate to have a conversation with the child?

MR LASSIG:  Some students who may have significant disabilities and may not have spoken language or   and there's ways that we can give them a voice to participate, or students who by having that conversation may impact in a negative way.  It may cause anxiety for them.  But generally speaking, students definitely should be part of that consultation, and how they are consulted will vary based on the age of the young person.  So very much is secondary, Commissioner.

DR MELLIFONT:  I'm sorry, Commissioner   thank you.  I'll come back to the question I asked before, later.


DR MELLIFONT:  I'll move on.  Now the evidence we heard from Ms Dunstone in Townsville is that an adjustment might not be fully met because it might not be within the resource capacity of the school.  For the transcript, that was transcript 289 line 35.

To your understanding, is there a funding limit of when an adjustment is within capacity?

MR LASSIG:  Not within from a departmental point of view, from a system point of view, no.

DR MELLIFONT:  So there ought not be any variation between the schools, then?

MR LASSIG:  If the school wasn't in the position to provide the adjustment, the region would support them.  So, for example, the small school that has a young person with a physical impairment that requires a change table, for a change --- that school may not be able to immediately afford to purchase that, they can loan that equipment and they can budget for that in future years.  So the Region would certainly step in and support in that case.

DR MELLIFONT:  So your expectation is that those things are done and conversely, if those things aren't being done you'd regard that as being a problem?

MR LASSIG:  My expectation would be that they're done and if the school doesn't have the resources, the system does.

DR MELLIFONT:  Okay.  And if it's not happening that's a problem from your perspective?


DR MELLIFONT:  A problem of the system?


CHAIR:  Mr Lassig, before we finish I would like to ask you some questions, so perhaps while there's a hiatus.

I take it that there has been an attempt to implement the recommendations in the 2017 report?

MR LASSIG:  Correct.

CHAIR:  Recommendation 4 1 of that report, page 62 of the single spaced version, is a recommendation that:

The Department should ensure legislative requirements are translated into accessible guidelines.  The support available for principals to navigate this area   including access to inclusion coaches and training   should be promoted widely and expanded ....

So that has been implemented, as you would understand it, by the inclusion policy which says that the resources that take a principal to the Disability Standards should be made available and they are, in fact, available on online e learning modules.  Is that how that works?

MR LASSIG:  That's correct.  There are also fact sheets available, yes.  That are more accessible, that are accessible for Principals.  So they're produced in a way that principles are understand their obligations or understand the relevant procedure or policy, and how it applies to their  

CHAIR:  And that depends upon the principals actually accessing that material?

MR LASSIG:  Well, one strategy that is used is the old fashioned snail mail whereby every Principal in the State receives a hard copy pack of all the relevant fact sheets and information, including posters and postcards.

CHAIR:  And so what about the Disability Standards themselves?

MR LASSIG:  No, no, they don't provide those.

CHAIR:  No, they don't.


CHAIR:  I'm sorry to rush but I just want to make sure we can cover some things that I'm interested in.  The Disability Standards then, knowledge thereof on the part of principals depends upon what inquiries the principals themselves make?

MR LASSIG:  Yes, Commissioner.  However, our policies and procedures have been written and as they're reviewed, we ensure alignment with the DDA and the DSE and, for example, the newly developed Student Code of Conduct, the template provided the schools has that alignment built in.  So if principals follow that template, that will mean that they're meeting their legislative obligations.

CHAIR:  Do you mean that that document, in whatever form it takes, sets out the relevant standards as to reasonable accommodation or adjustment?

MR LASSIG:  No, Commissioner, it's that the ---

CHAIR:  It has a link, doesn't it?

MR LASSIG:  Yes, yes, it does.

CHAIR:  Just as the Disability Inclusion Policy has a link but it doesn't set out the details, does it?



MR LASSIG:  Not to my understanding.

CHAIR:  You wouldn't know, from reading the policy on inclusive education, what the Disability Standards require unless you actually take the time and trouble to go to the Disability Standards and look at them yourself?

MR LASSIG:  Correct.

CHAIR:  And you don't know how many principals, in fact, have done that?


CHAIR:  You know they should have but you don't know how many have, is that  

MR LASSIG:  No, I don't, that's correct.

CHAIR:  You've heard evidence this week that there have been decisions made apparently without reference   without people necessarily knowing what the Disability Standards requires?

MR LASSIG:  Yes, we have, Commissioner.

CHAIR:  And that could still happen today, couldn't it?

MR LASSIG:  Yes, it could.

CHAIR:  And the likelihood of that happening today is perhaps increased when one looks at the Student Discipline document which contains no reference whatsoever to reasonable standards, does it?

MR LASSIG:  The discipline procedure?

CHAIR:  The document that is Exhibit I to your statement that's headed "Procedures, Student Discipline, 16 March 2020".

MR LASSIG:  I would need to look at that very carefully.

CHAIR:  Please do, and I don't want to get you to agree to something you haven't had the chance to look at, and I have not had a chance to look at these documents to the extent I would like but as far as I can tell there's no reference to reasonable adjustments in that document, and there is reference, however, as to what principals must do and there's a lot of reference to misbehaviour, disobedience and so on and so forth.  And I just wonder, and this is something you might take on notice, that how anybody reading that document would know that you should not suspend or exclude a student with disability without first ascertaining whether the law had been obeyed by the appropriate adjustments or support being provided in accordance with the Disability Standards.  That's a suggestion I'm making to you.  I'm not asking you to respond now, but I would like you to take that on notice and to provide a response in due course.

MR LASSIG:  Thank you, Commissioner.

CHAIR:  Thank you.

DR MELLIFONT:  Thank you, Commissioner.  I'll be about another 10 to 15 minutes on just a few more points.

CHAIR:  Okay.

DR MELLIFONT:  In respect of individual support plans for students, is there a single way in which these are to be done, that is, precise process across Queensland giving guidance as to how it's to be done?

MR LASSIG:  There is guidance but there isn't one template and one mandated way for that to occur.  The consistency comes with that they are expected to be uploaded in OneSchool.  So there is an individual learning plan tab in OneSchool.  So and within that, that can be completed.  Some schools may complete it in OneSchool whereas some schools will have their own school based template and then upload it to OneSchool.

DR MELLIFONT:  So, again, that's the expectation.  Is there an obligation on somebody to review them?

MR LASSIG:  The obligation will be on the principal.  But as ARD, particularly in circumstances of suspension pending exclusion, I will go into OneSchool and I will seek out any available plans around supporting learning as well as supporting behaviour.

DR MELLIFONT:  Okay.  But so far as you're aware, no written mandate requiring ARDs to do that, is that correct?


DR MELLIFONT:  You agree with me?


DR MELLIFONT:  Thank you.  And in respect of individual teachers, is it your understanding that there's no mandatory training of teachers in areas related to teaching students with disability?

MR LASSIG:  No mandated training.

DR MELLIFONT:  I want to move to student disciplinary   SDA rates.  We've heard this week from some of the academics that data around exclusion of students is not made available publicly.  Is that the position with respect to Queensland data, to your understanding?


DR MELLIFONT:  Do you know why?


DR MELLIFONT:  Or is that a decision made by others?

MR LASSIG:  I know it resides locally in schools and is aggregated at a regional level.

DR MELLIFONT:  Right.  Now, to take you to paragraph 78, please, of your statement and you speak about a student's individual circumstances being taken into account and you've given evidence about that today.  Obviously you're speaking from your experience in your role.  Did you hear the evidence of Ms Haythorpe, Ms Theodore, and Ms Howlett?

MR LASSIG:  Yes, I did.

DR MELLIFONT:  This week, and you would agree that there are indications within that evidence that that is not uniformly the case, that's what you've set out in paragraph 78?

MR LASSIG:  There would be inconsistencies around how individual circumstances are taken into account.

DR MELLIFONT:  Is that something that concerns you from a systemic level?


DR MELLIFONT:  Do you know whether there are precise means by which the Department, that these matters referred to in paragraph 78 are monitored?

MR LASSIG:  The role I'm in at ARD would be the main monitoring mechanism.  So I   ARDs get an email alert when there is a suspension pending exclusion.  So that means the principal hasn't made the decision to exclude, they’ve made the decision to suspend and they're collecting evidence to make the decision around exclusion, and at that point, that presents an opportunity for the ARD to have a conversation with the principal around their thinking around the decision.

DR MELLIFONT:  And beyond that no formal requirement?



MR LASSIG:  Agreed.

DR MELLIFONT:  Okay.  So if we look at that paragraph 78, in light of the evidence we've heard from those three witnesses, from a whole of Queensland Education perspective, that might be more aspirational than reflecting actuality consistently across Queensland?

MR LASSIG:  Consistently, but principals do know those individual circumstances best so they will be aware of what is happening in a student's life that should be  
taken into consideration.

DR MELLIFONT:  And that's your expectation of the Principals?


DR MELLIFONT:  Once again, I don't want anyone to take my observations as a generality that I've just made, but there is a way to go?

MR LASSIG:  We can do better.

DR MELLIFONT:  Okay.  Can I ask if somebody at your level necessarily hears about multiple suspensions, is  there  an absolute process by which if there are multiple suspensions of a student, that information will come to you as a trigger?


DR MELLIFONT:  And in your experience, if a student has been through multiple suspensions, that can sometimes create a heightened risk of disengagement totally from education?

MR LASSIG:  Absolutely.

DR MELLIFONT:  I want to move to barriers for enrolment.  Paragraph 95 of your statement, you say that the only person with authority to refuse enrolment is the Director General.  Now we've heard evidence this week from Ms Haythorpe and Ms Howlett about informal methods of preventing enrolment.  Did you hear that evidence?

MR LASSIG:  Yes, I did.

DR MELLIFONT:  Were you aware of practices like this occurring in Queensland?

MR LASSIG:  I'm not aware of them in my group of schools, so I've not come across them in my region in the role that I'm in now.

DR MELLIFONT:  Having heard that evidence yesterday, is that something that concerns you?

MR LASSIG:  Very much so.

DR MELLIFONT:  Something that the Department needs to look at very carefully?


DR MELLIFONT:  Excuse me.  If a student becomes disengaged from the system, or the system becomes disengaged from the student, how does the Department track  
where they are?

MR LASSIG:  So we have --- each region has   well, I know my region has, and I understand each region has what's called an “engagement hub”, which will monitor attendance of students and will identify any students that have not been attending school or have left a school and indicated they are moving to another school and have not arrived.  So that engagement hub will identify those students, will try to connect with the families.  Sometimes that is difficult.  We'll connect back at the last school to see if they have any awareness of where that child may be.

DR MELLIFONT:  I want to give you a specific example.  In the case of Jack, who went to a Flexischool and there was disengagement, and the Commissioner has information that the Flexischool wasn't mandated to let the Department or the school know that had happened.  Is that how it works now?

MR LASSIG:  Not in my area.  There are some alternative programs that are offered by groups of schools and the practice is that they need to, on a daily basis, let the school know that they're enrolled in that they are attending that program.

DR MELLIFONT:  Okay.  So your understanding is there is a current mandatory requirement of those alternate learning places to let the Department know if the student hasn't turned up?

MR LASSIG:  If they are Departmental programs, and the student is enrolled in a State school.

DR MELLIFONT:  Okay.  And if not, then no?

MR LASSIG:  I don't have any --- I'm not aware of those other non State programs and their protocols, sorry.

DR MELLIFONT:  Okay.  I then turn to bullying.  What centralised data does Queensland Education keep about the extent of bullying within Queensland schools?

MR LASSIG:  My understanding is there's no state wide data collected.

DR MELLIFONT:  Okay.  And does the   does, to your knowledge, the Department keep data on children who are in a part time enrolment or a part time arrangement, even an informal one?

MR LASSIG:  The system doesn't have system wide data to address that and as part of the response to the Disability Review, we'd conducted an audit of randomly selected schools because to get a sense of the scale of which that was happening, and then what we learnt from that audit was considered in the guidelines that have been released this year around part time attendance.


MR LASSIG:  However, across the system, my understanding is we do not know how many students are engaging in a part time attendance arrangement.

DR MELLIFONT:  Do I take it from that answer that what the Department ascertained was worrying enough to need to take action for more proscriptive and prescriptive measures around attendance?

MR LASSIG:  Yes, that was part of a recommendation from the Disability Review, if I recall.

DR MELLIFONT:  So currently is there, to your knowledge, a mandate --- a mandated requirement for schools to record, say, for where a parent is asked to pick up a child early from school?

MR LASSIG:  That would only be recorded if that is part of a formal part time arrangement plan, and it's --- within that plan it would indicate that the student has been picked up at a certain time but that plan is --- my understanding is the plan is only required if the part time arrangements will extend beyond 10 weeks.

DR MELLIFONT:  Right.  So, if it's formal but not of a relevant duration, or informal, then there's no mandate for that information to be kept by the school, is that correct?

MR LASSIG:  There's no mandate but it would be good practice, and as a principal I would always have that documented and recorded in OneSchool.

DR MELLIFONT:  Is there, to your understanding, a requirement of people at your level to seek out and review and monitor such behaviour?

MR LASSIG:  So with the new guidelines should there be a part time attendance program for longer than ten weeks, that plan is sent to the ARD to endorse.  I have received some plans, and I have also provided feedback on those plans.

DR MELLIFONT:  Okay.  But beyond that, no mandatory requirement on ARDs?

MR LASSIG:  Well, there's the expectation that ARDs endorse and are aware of any plans for longer than ten weeks.

DR MELLIFONT:  Yes.  So I think the answer to my question is yes.


DR MELLIFONT:  Okay.  Finally, restrictive practices, and we're just obviously starting this topic, and there's a lot more to be done, but for today, your statement refers to a new policy for Queensland schools for restrictive practices.  What prompted the need for this new policy, to your knowledge and understanding?

MR LASSIG:  A recommendation in the Disability Review.

DR MELLIFONT:  Is there data being kept now in Queensland regarding the extent, nature and use of restrictive practices?

MR LASSIG:  No, but there is, I understand, a build happening in OneSchool that will enable the recording of the use of restrictive practices.

DR MELLIFONT:  Okay, what does that mean?

MR LASSIG:  So there's no system wide   schools are expected to put it into the OneSchool, but there will be a unique component of OneSchool where those   any use of restrictive practices can be recorded.


MR LASSIG:  So it currently --- a Principal may put a note in OneSchool around the use of a restrictive practice.  Once there's a new build, there will be a specific tab, for example, within OneSchool that will need to be completed if there is a restrictive practice that has been used.

DR MELLIFONT:  Mandatory?

MR LASSIG:  That is my understanding.

DR MELLIFONT:  Okay.  Who do we ask?

MR LASSIG:  I think we can ask the Assistant Director General, State Schools Operations, regarding that.

DR MELLIFONT:  Do you know what training staff will receive on the implementation of the new policy?

MR LASSIG:  I know that all Principals in my area and my region have received training on the new procedure, that was scheduled during COVID, the significant part of people working from home, even though schools were open, so those training sessions, workshops, that took place online.  So we saw that that was still important to progress with that.

We also, each region has a Principal Adviser, Restrictive Practices, and they are providing that expert advice around the restrictive practices procedure.  So if I'm involved in a conversation with a principal, and I think that we need to bring an additional level of expertise to the conversation, I will connect the principal with that Principal Adviser.

DR MELLIFONT:  Right.  Did that training include the legal obligations of staff?


DR MELLIFONT:  Did it include training as to evidence based positive and proactive behaviour support strategies?

MR LASSIG:  It talks about using the least restrictive practice.  So it won't talk about how we can avoid the use of restrictive practice as a last resort.  That will be contained in a school's Code of Conduct, student Code of Conduct, but it does reference that a restrictive practice should only be used as a last resort when other evidence based strategies have already been used.

DR MELLIFONT:  Okay, so I think the answer to my question therefore is no.



MR LASSIG:  Agreed.

DR MELLIFONT:  At paragraph 68 of your statement, you state that:

It is my understanding that the Department will also engage an expert external provider to deliver physical skills training for all school staff in 2020.

MR LASSIG:  That statement was written in March prior to what's happened in the world since.  So I would have to take that as a question on notice on the status of that appointment of an external provider.

DR MELLIFONT:  Okay.  I take you to reporting oversight and accountability with respect to restrictive practices and the new policy.

You set some information out about this at paragraphs 69, which says, and I quote:

The new Restrictive Practices procedure clearly outlines reporting and oversight mechanisms for principals, including:

(a) if they have a reasonable belief that a restrictive practice used by a staff member was not appropriate or not compliant with the procedure the principal must, as soon as practicable, (eg within 24 hours), provide details of the incident to the principal's supervisor or delegate; and

(b) [must] record details of the restrictive practice into OneSchool.

As to 69(b), does that record trigger an alarm above the school, say at your level?

MR LASSIG:  No, but (a) does.  So the principal would report that to the Assistant  
Regional Director.

DR MELLIFONT:  And (a) is only triggered if the principal identifies that he has a reasonable belief that the restrictive practices are not appropriate or compliant?

MR LASSIG:  My understanding is the new build, the update of OneSchool, will include an alert.  But we may need to take that on notice to confirm that.

DR MELLIFONT:  Okay.  Can I have paragraph 71 up, please.  We've touched on this just now:

Principals are responsible for ensuring all policies and procedures are implemented appropriately including those related to restrictive practices.  There are additional layers of support and oversight in place, through the system of supervision at the regional level to ensure compliance.  For example, principals regularly discuss and seek feedback from me on risk management plans that complement Individual Behaviour Support Plans to help ensure compliance with relevant policies and procedures.

So when you talk about additional layers of support and oversight, you're talking about the ARD engaging with the principals?

MR LASSIG:  And the Principal Adviser Restrictive Practices.

DR MELLIFONT:  Okay.  And insofar as the ARD carries out that, it's according to what they see as appropriate themselves as to what interventions or discussions need to take place?

MR LASSIG:  Yes, and the role of the Principal Adviser is critical here because they have that absolute expertise in the restrictive practices procedure, so they will give advice around aligning with the expectations and the legislative obligations within the procedure, where as ARD I would be in that space but I would also be providing support.  I've actually sat down and done some risk management plans and individual behaviour support plans with school leaders and teachers as well.  So it's a quality assurance measure.

DR MELLIFONT:  Okay.  How many Principal Advisers in that role will there be, or are there?

MR LASSIG:  There's seven across the system.

DR MELLIFONT:  And my intention currently to --- and no intention currently to expand it beyond seven, seven is the number at the moment?

MR LASSIG:  I will have to take that on notice, but my understanding would be there will be one for each region.

DR MELLIFONT:  And your understanding is there is not currently any mandated requirement for principals to elevate to Principal Adviser beyond what we've discussed at 69?

MR LASSIG:  That's correct.

DR MELLIFONT:  Do you have any concerns about the extent of accountability built into the current restrictive practices procedure?

MR LASSIG:  I have trusting relationships with my principals.  They are very --- they regularly think out loud with me.  So I am confident with my Principals that if they need advice or they're not sure about actions, that they would run their thinking by me.  So that's not mandated, but that is the practice that --- and the process, I guess, that we have in place, with my principals.

DR MELLIFONT:  I understand your confidence.  I'll ask my question again, though.  This is Queensland wide, this policy, do you have any concerns about the level of accountability of reporting requirements in that procedure?

MR LASSIG:  Currently, yes.  I'm confident that once the reporting, the mandatory flagging of the use of a restrictive practice is in place, that then there is a trigger then that the ARD will always be involved in those situations.

DR MELLIFONT:  I'm not sure I understand that, because as we've gone through in paragraph 69, 69(a) only triggers if the principal forms a reasonable belief.  What if it's the principal that's used the restrictive practice?  Is that a concern?

MR LASSIG:  That would mean that it would still need to be reported but that may impact on   well, I can only talk about my principals.  I would be confident that my Principals would still report within 24 hours if they were involved in the restrictive practice.  Well, the wording there is a restrictive practice that's not appropriate or not compliant.

DR MELLIFONT:  Who has ownership of this policy, its implementation, its enforcement within the Department?

MR LASSIG:  My understanding, it would reside in State Schools Operations.

DR MELLIFONT:  Thank you.

Commissioners, I have no further questions for Mr Lassig.

CHAIR:  Thank you very much.

I'll ask Commissioners if they have questions and we will, I'm sure, all bear in mind the time which is steadily moving on.

Commissioner Atkinson?

COMMISSIONER ATKINSON:  No, thank you, I've asked all the questions I wanted to ask during the hearing.  Thank you.

CHAIR:  Thank you.  Commissioner Mason?


CHAIR:  Commissioner Galbally?



CHAIR:  Thank you.  I only have one more question, perhaps one and a half.  The student discipline procedure, did you have any input into that, the one that's currently in force?

MR LASSIG:  Not directly, but I was asked to provide feedback on the resources that accompany that to help principals in that procedure.

CHAIR:  And do you agree with the contents of the current student discipline procedure?

MR LASSIG:  I am committed to implementing the procedure.  I don't have a strong   well, I believe, and I trust the officers who developed that procedure and it was based on international and national research and was considerate of our legislative obligations.

CHAIR:  Well, I wonder about that, in the absence of any reference to the Disability Standards and so forth, but perhaps that's a conversation that is best continued with others elsewhere.

Thank you very much, Mr Lassig, for coming to give evidence.  I appreciate you've been in the witness box for a long time and the Commissioners appreciate your assistance today.  Thank you very much.

MR LASSIG:  Thank you.

CHAIR:  Dr Mellifont, do we proceed directly to closing statements or do you wish to adjourn for a few minutes to reorganise, as it were?

DR MELLIFONT:  Mr Lassig may be excused.

CHAIR:  Yes, of course.

MR LASSIG:  I feel like I'm back at school!


DR MELLIFONT:  Chair, we're ready to proceed but we're in your hands.

CHAIR:  Go ahead.  If we're ready to proceed, the sooner we start, the benefit will be the sooner we finish.  So please, go ahead.  I think it's Mr Power, is it, who is to make the closing remarks?

DR MELLIFONT:  That's right.

MR POWER:  Commissioners, can I deal with some administrative matters before moving to the Counsel Assisting's closing statement?

CHAIR:  Yes, please do.

MR POWER:  The first is to correct the Exhibit record.  The statement of Mr Chris Lassig should be marked Exhibit 7.174 rather than 7.173, and the annexures to his statement therefore are 7.174.1 to 7.174.15.  And the additional materials that have not yet been tendered and located at Tender Bundle Part D, Volume 4 at Tabs 1 to 27 be marked exhibits 7.175 through 7.198.

And, as mentioned in Dr Mellifont's opening statement, "Leif" provided a written statement to the Royal Commission about how their school did not understand the nature of their disability and learning needs, and I tender that statement and ask that it be marked Exhibit 7.199, and there are additional materials relevant to the case study of Sarah and Kobe, and I tender that material and ask that it be marked Exhibit 7.200 through Exhibit 7.203.

Finally, Dr Lee Sturgeon provided a written statement to the Royal Commission in relation to the case study of Amy and Sam.  He was not asked to give oral evidence.  I tender Dr Sturgeon's statement and ask that it be marked Exhibit 7.204 with the annexure to the statement marked 7.204.1.  So if I could ask those be marked and tendered, Chair.

CHAIR:  Yes, those documents that have been tendered can be admitted into evidence, and each of the documents that you have mentioned will be given the marking to which you have referred.







MR POWER:  Thank you.

In closing this hearing, we want to thank all of the witnesses who have given their time and their expertise in order to prepare statements and to give oral evidence over the last five days.

We particularly want to thank the witnesses who spoke of their own experiences, or those of their children.

The evidence in this hearing has raised significant and difficult issues about how students with disability can be subjected to violence, abuse and neglect in mainstream Australian classrooms and schools.  These include: the impacts of bullying, and the need to provide culturally appropriate supports, which were so vividly observed in the YouTube video of Quaden Bayles; the need to provide reasonable or appropriate adjustments to enable learning, and develop and implement holistic frameworks of support; the need to guard vigorously against the inappropriate use of suspensions and exclusions, particularly against the use of discipline to punish the conduct of students with disability which was communication or a manifestation of their disability, not disobedience; how escalating exclusion of students with disability --- both formal and informal --- can lead to significant educational neglect including the non completion of high school; that the need to ensure that students with disability have the same opportunities to undertake tertiary education as their peers, and be provided with the necessary adjustments to support this educational goal, noting the impacts on Leif and Maria.

In this closing, we want to highlight and acknowledge the important voices of young people with disability from this hearing on those issues and from their families.  We are very grateful to have had the opportunity to hear the experiences directly from Quaden, Sam, Kobe, Alice, Jack, and Maria.

We thank all of our witnesses for their suggestions for change.  And just to mention a couple: the purity of expression of Quaden in his call for a more inclusive society.   
Could I ask that that clip of Quaden speaking to Dr Mellifont be played.  It is IND.0054.0001.0003 and it will be played from 45 seconds into the clip.


DR MELLIFONT: .... What would you would like them to know now?  What's the message you'd like to give to them?

QUADEN:  Just don't be rude to kids who have disabilities, and just be kind and be nice.


MR POWER:  Thank you.  We heard evidence from Amy, the mother of Sam, who, at 5 years of age, was placed on a warning of suspension within three weeks of starting school and he was suspended from school for the first of a number of occasions on 28 April of his first year of school.  And this was a 5 year old with a disability.

His mother, Amy, told us:

I would really like for there to be an independent process before kids are even looked at being suspended.

Amy said that in dealing with very young students with disabilities, the education system had to:

.... recognise that kids, you know, 5, 6 year olds, just at that age don't have the capacity to process and understand a suspension, let alone a child with a disability who is emotionally and socially at a 2, 3 year old level.  You know, to see him get up every day and stick his school shoes on or go past the school and see playing and wonder why he wasn't there was just horrific.  It's not something you can put kids through.  It's just damaging. ....

The hearing heard that recovering from educational neglect is very difficult and no young person should be left feeling that they have missed out forever on an education.

Of course, education is not just what happens in early childhood, primary schools, and high school up to Grade 12.  Future artists, social workers, tradespeople, doctors or even Commissioners   whatever a career a person with a disability aspires to, they should be able to undertake a tertiary education if they wish   whether that's through the TAFE system or through university.

Commissioners, you heard this morning from Maria Scharnke, who fears that her ability to get into the university course that will enable her to succeed might be impeded by her experience at school.  The Commission will consider post secondary education further as part of our ongoing work in education.

Alice shared with us her love of academic pursuits and how her success was an important part of her identity.  And you will recall Alice's plea to this Commission, and I will ask that part of a clip from Alice be played.  It is IND.0056.0001.0002 and it is from 01:45 to the end of that clip.


ALICE:  It is my hope that if we begin to act now, the foundations of that metaphorical wall will be shattered and no student will ever have to experience the annoyance and the blatant ignorance of the one size fits all approach.  It is time to lift the veil.  It is not enough to treat us like people.  It's time to treat us as individuals.  Thank you for your time and listening.


MR POWER:  Of course, in the course of this week, we have heard not just where things went wrong, we've also heard from students and their parents of wonderful, caring teachers who made a difference in the lives of students with a disability, but we have also heard, through the evidence, that systemic system issues can work against ensuring that this is consistent, continued and supported.

Part of the role of this Royal Commission is to look for practical solutions to prevent and address the difficult and entrenched systemic issues that lead to violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation of students with disability.

In carrying out this work, we have a strong commitment to hearing the voices of people with disability, to understand their experiences of violence, abuse, neglect, and exploitation, as well as their proposals for change.

The intention of this Commission is to approach our task in a thorough fashion, and with rigour.  We note that sometimes it will be necessary for different sides of debates on contentious issues to be heard, and we heard some of that this week.  That debate may be confronting, stressful or triggering for some.

The Royal Commission encourages those involved in and following public hearings to seek support if they need to.  May I briefly remind those following us of the support structures which are available.

The Royal Commission has an internal counselling and support services team made up of social workers and counsellors who can provide counselling and support to all people engaging with the Commission.

The Australian Government has also funded Blue Knot Foundation, a specialist counselling support and referral service for people with disability, their families and carers, and anyone affected by the Commission.  Their hotline number is 1800 421 468.

A range of legal and advocacy services have also been funded by the Australian Government.  There is a legal financial assistance scheme to assist with meeting the cost of legal representation associated with formal engagement with the Commission.  National Legal Aid and the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services, also deliver free legal advisory services for people engaging with the Commission.

Further information about these services can be found on the Commission's website, or by contacting the information line, which is 1800 517 199.

Before I touch on our future public hearings, in addition to thanking, again, the witnesses who have given evidence this week, we, the Counsel Assisting, also want to thank the staff at the Royal Commission across all parts of the Commission.  We particularly want to thank the OSA hearing team under the leadership of Sarah Henningham.

Finally, I note that future public hearings will examine other educational issues.  Our next public hearing, however, will examine the experiences of First Nations people with disability and their families in contact with child protection systems.  That hearing will be held with both in person witnesses and witnesses giving evidence remotely from across Australia.  The hearing will be based at the Disability Royal Commission hearing room here in Brisbane, and it will commence on 23 November 2020.

Thank you, Commissioners.

CHAIR:  Thank you very much, Mr Power.  I, too, wish to thank on behalf of the Commissioners, most sincerely everyone who has given evidence this week.  The Commission has been examining an extraordinarily important set of issues which raise very complex and difficult policy questions.  The Royal Commission greatly appreciates the evidence that has been given by experts, by advocates, as well as, of course, as the witnesses for the --- representing the NSW and Queensland governments.  Their evidence has been of great assistance.

But we especially wish to express our gratitude to the students and their families who have shared their experiences with us over the course of the week.  I know that Mr Power has referred to their evidence, but I also want to do so on behalf of the  
Commissioners as a way of emphasising just how much importance we place on that evidence.

We express our deep appreciation to Quaden Bayles and his mother, Yarraka, from whom we heard on Monday.  I shall come back to Quaden shortly.

We also heard on Monday, and we have just seen the clip of Alice in a video in which she spoke so passionately in support of tearing down the metaphorical wall that stands between students with disability and their ability to achieve their goals and aspirations.  Alice said she wants to eradicate the one size fits all approach to inclusivity, and that's something we heard a good deal of evidence from advocates and experts.

On Tuesday, we heard from Amy who shared Sam's story with us, and we also briefly heard from Sam, Mr Power has referred to their evidence.

On Wednesday, we heard from Sarah and from Kobe who spoke of the consequences when trust between student and teacher is ruined, and who echoed Alice's views by emphasising the importance of teachers understanding that not all kids with autism are the same.

On Thursday, Sharon and Alex told us of their experiences in attempting to secure adequate supports and adjustments, and schooling for Jack.  Their persistent and dedicated efforts were ultimately unsuccessful, leading to the heart breaking decision to remove Jack from his last school at the age of 13 or 14.  This left Jack, as Sharon said, barely able to write his own name.  Yet Jack, despite being denied his right to education, spoke to us powerfully and cogently about his experiences, telling us how actions that were inherent in his condition, and a result of his condition, were perceived as deliberate, or disobedient, and resulted in escalating disciplinary sanctions imposed on him with disastrous consequences.

Today we heard directly from Maria Scharnke, who gave evidence after making a submission to the Royal Commission.  She made her submission and gave her evidence because, as she said, she is determined to do all she can to reform both educational and broader systems so that people with disability can be fully included in Australian society.  She has decided to dedicate her life mission to advocacy on behalf of people with disability.  Her evidence demonstrates that she will achieve her goals.

We just saw the clip from Quaden, and as you would have seen, when he was asked about the message he would like to give to children who don't understand how their comments can hurt him, he replied, "Just don't be rude to kids who have disabilities, just be kind and be nice."

That sentiment was expressed by a young boy who has experienced bullying and severe abuse in the education system.  His words put it in a nutshell.  His insight is not confined to the behaviour of other children, but as we repeatedly heard during the  
week, can be equally applied to educational authorities.  Kindness and understanding must inform their approach to children with complex needs whose behaviour is so often wrongly characterised as deliberate or wilful.

Jack, for example, explained the extraordinarily beneficial consequences of having a teacher who was kind, who understood his needs and who went out of her way to make him feel as comfortable as possible to ensure his inclusion in the education program.  Maria said much the same thing.  Sadly, in Jack's case, that was not continued.

A fundamental rule of policy making is that if you ask the right questions, you have a fighting chance of producing answers that are workable, worthwhile, perhaps even genuinely transformational.  If you ask the wrong questions, you can be guaranteed to produce the wrong answers.

As was stated at the outset of this hearing, the focus has been on the barriers to securing safe, quality and inclusive education for children with disability in what are usually described as mainstream schools.  Identifying these barriers is the necessary precondition to asking the right questions and then developing workable, worthwhile, and perhaps genuinely transformational reform proposals.

The barriers were identified in one way or another by the lived experience witnesses, the students themselves, the advocates, the experts, and indeed were often acknowledged by the Government witnesses.  And without in any way intending to be exhaustive, some of the barriers included the following: first, the long standing attitudes of some educational authorities towards what are perceived to be the challenges presented in teaching children with disability, leading to punitive responses for what is regarded as difficult behaviour, rather than attempting to ascertain the causes of the behaviour and providing the supports and the adjustments that the student needs.

We saw the devastating consequences that can flow from the inappropriate and disproportionate application of disciplinary sanctions to a student with disability.

Secondly, there seems to be a surprising disconnect, at least at some levels, between the existing legal requirements under the Disability Discrimination Act 1992 (Cth) and the educational standards under that Act, for the provision of reasonable adjustments or supports and the provision of adjustments at school level.

Thirdly, there are rigidities in addressing the undoubted challenges presented in implementing a policy of inclusive education leading to failures to provide individual adjustments and support for students with disability.  This is encapsulated by Alice's condemnation of the one size fits all approach.

Fourthly, the systems of funding, as we heard today, to provide support for children with disability in schools are complicated and apparently not well understood generally.  The devolution of decision-making authority to local levels is  
undoubtedly well intentioned, but does not generally appear to be a closely audited process that leads, therefore, to unevenness in practice and significant disparities between schools and between students similarly placed.

Fifthly, as we have often heard in our hearings to date, there is limited data available to inform policy making.  For example, there is limited data on suspensions and exclusions, part time attendance of students with disability, and even the use of restrictive practices in schools.  It is extremely difficult to address and rectify a problem if we do not understand its nature and extent.

Finally, the lack of training for teachers to enable them to perform their extremely important and onerous responsibilities is a significant issue.  We do not, for a moment, underestimate the difficulties of the multiple roles that teachers have to perform and the responsibilities they have to discharge.  A persistent theme, however, in the evidence was the need to devote more attention to the training of teachers, and perhaps to principals, to equip them to apply a philosophy of inclusive education in mainstream schools.

The next step for the Royal Commission is to develop proposals that are workable, worthwhile, and have the potential to achieve transformational change in curbing the violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation of students with disability about which we have heard so much this week.

Some proposals will, no doubt, be relatively straightforward, at least in principle.  It really should not be too hard in the end to implement measures to ensure that State educational authorities fully understand and comply with the existing Commonwealth law.  Other proposals will involve much greater complexity, difficulty, and possibly controversy.  No one should underestimated the difficulty of the task that faces us but it is the task we now have to perform.

I think there are, Mr Power, some directions to be made and should I make the directions in the form that have been proposed by Counsel Assisting?

DR MELLIFONT:  Back in the hot seat, Chair.  Yes, please.

CHAIR:  Thank you.  The directions that are made are as follows:  First, by Friday 30 October 2020, any witnesses who took questions on notice during this hearing should provide their answers in writing to the Office of the Solicitor Assisting the Royal Commission.  These answers should be targeted and concise.

Secondly, in the lead up to this hearing, the Office of the Solicitor Assisting the Royal Commission sent a number of letters to individuals and institutions in order to comply with the requirements of procedural fairness.  By Friday, 30 October 2020, those individuals should provide any submissions in response along with any additional material they wish to submit.  Reasons for the provision of additional material should also be given and these should be concise.  All correspondence in this regard should be directed to the Office of the Solicitor Assisting.

Thirdly, Counsel Assisting the Royal Commission will consider any additional material produced and determine if any additional steps need to be taken.  By Friday, 13 November 2020, Counsel Assisting will tender into evidence whatever additional material is considered appropriate.

Fourthly, Counsel Assisting will then prepare written submissions to the Royal Commission setting out a number of key themes and issues that have emerged from the evidence during this week.  The submissions may include suggestions about further lines of inquiry that could be pursued by the Royal Commission before recommendations are formulated in relation to those issues.  The material can also include proposed recommendations that may be made by the Royal Commission.

Fifthly, by Wednesday, 10 February 2021, the Counsel Assisting submissions will be made available on a confidential basis to those parties with leave to appear at the hearing.

Sixthly, those parties who wish to make submissions in response to Counsel Assisting's submissions should do so in writing by Friday, 5 March 2021.  The submissions in response should be concise and should not include any additional proposed evidence.

Finally, following consideration of Counsel Assisting's submissions, along with any submissions received in response, the four Royal Commissioners who have sat at this hearing and are present today in one form or another, will prepare a short report on the hearing.  That report will be made public in due course.

The only remaining matter is for me, on behalf of the Commissioners, to express our gratitude to Dr Mellifont and to the Counsel Assisting as well, the three Counsel Assisting, who have provided such excellent assistance to the Royal Commission during this hearing and our thanks, too, to the Office of Solicitor Assisting for their work in preparing and assisting in the conduct of the hearing.

I also want to acknowledge the outstanding work that has been done by other staff within the Commission.  As we know, a great deal of work goes into preparing these hearings and the Commissioners are very grateful for the work that has been done to enable the hearing to have proceeded as smoothly as it has.

Thank you very much.  The Commission will now adjourn.