More than 500 school bags were placed on the steps of Western Australia’s Parliament House on Thursday in a visual protest calling for a review of the state’s public education system.
The bags each represented a student, parent, teacher or education expert, with information cards attached to each one telling the story of their experience in the school system, particularly those who are neurodiverse.
Stories included those of children struggling to cope in school after failing to receive adequate support for their learning disabilities or declining mental health.
One story came from a five-year-old boy who said he suffered from nightmares and speech regression after being restrained at “poked at” in school.
Event organiser Symone Wheatley-Hey, from advocacy group Square Peg Round Whole, said the protesters were calling for two points of action.
“One is for a commitment and a strategy towards a more inclusive education system … where children regardless of disabilities, neurodiversity or other differences, can be educated appropriately and safely in the public schools,” she said.
“They should be educated in the same public schools, and they shouldn’t be segregated based on disability.
“We’re also … looking for the establishment of some kind of independent oversight or monitoring because all the schools self assess, and then the Department handles their own investigations into incidents. There’s no one externally checking and that’s really problematic.”
She said teachers needed help in the classrooms to make this possible because “they’re burning out because they’re under resourced, under supported and overworked.”