Rebecca Berry, 2/02/2009
Rebecca Berry, 2/02/2009
(reproduced with the permission of the Maitland Mercury)
Sarah Coutts’ face lights up when she talks about her friends and teachers at Martins Creek Public School.
Although she is 13 in April, Sarah wants to stay in Year 6 at the little school with only 12 students where she feels safe and secure.
Sarah has Down syndrome and a range of complex health problems including a heart and lung condition, which means she suffers from fatigue and is fed through a tube into her stomach.
She is tiny for her age, weighing only 24kg and has the developmental level of a 4-year-old.
Despite all this, the State Government has refused the family’s pleas for Sarah to stay at primary school.
Sarah’s mother Sue is now calling for compassion from the Government and urged minister Verity Firth to come to Maitland to meet Sarah.
For two years, Ms Coutts has battled government departments, gathered piles of research, attended countless meetings and kept detailed notes of her fight to keep Sarah at her much-loved school.
“We want Sarah to stay at Martins Creek School until she is 16,” Ms Coutts said.
“Travelling to high school would be detrimental to her health, plus she needs constant support throughout the school day.
“She would not cope with the environment of a high school with 900 students.”
Ms Coutts said the long and stressful fight for Sarah, adopted when she was six weeks old, has been all consuming for her and the rest of her family.
“This is not something I went into lightly. I am doing this because I know it is the right thing for Sarah, a unique little person,” she said. “Sarah’s cardiologist and paediatrician thought it was a good idea for her to stay where she is and at first I think the education department was surprised by my request.
“I looked at other options for Sarah, attended lots of meetings and listed all the benefits and negatives for her.”
Ms Coutts says it is cruel and unfair for Sarah and her family to suffer through the process.
“I received a letter from the Department of Education which I read as permission for Sarah to stay at her school. I also had an agreement with (former education minister) John Della Bosca after meeting with him.
“But I have since received a letter from Verity Firth’s office telling me that our request is not supported because it is not in Sarah’s best interests.”
“We have the support and backing of the Down Syndrome Association and there is no legislation that states Sarah can’t stay where she is with the community that loves and respects her.
“There cannot be a decision about her future until the minister meets Sarah and sees her at school to understand how much she loves it.”