The parents of a wheelchair-bound boy are considering legal action against the NSW Department of Education and Communities over what they believe is an act of discrimination.
Luke Smith, 11, was left staring at the backs of his classmates in a photo taken to celebrate the year 6 graduation at Beresfield Public School, near Newcastle yesterday and posted to Facebook.
In the image only his wheelchair is visible between the legs of his mates in what should have been a lasting memento of his primary education.
“I bawled my eyes out,” his distraught mother Vicky Smith, who snapped a damning photo of the situation (left), said.
A DEC spokesman moved to downplay the situation yesterday.
“The school has enjoyed having Luke there and the school has done a lot of things to facilitate equity of access to students with a disability,” he said.
“It’s all an unfortunate misunderstanding.”
A month of preparation and planning – including a rehearsal – failed to ensure Luke was placed in the front row.
“I’m just shattered,” his father Phillip Smith said.
“If he wasn’t in a wheelchair he would be in that photo.”
Luke suffers no mental disability from his hydrocephalus – water on the brain.
When asked by Fairfax if the photo was a spur of the moment event, Mr Smith shook his head.
“No, it was all planned,” he said.
“It was his year 6 farewell and that photo is something he should be able to look back on.”
The DEC spokesman said it was an oversight.
“They had rehearsed the photo and somehow between then and Tuesday he ended up out of place,” the spokesman said.
“The students were grouped alphabetically for the photo – being Smith he ended up at the back, it wasn’t discrimination.”
Apologies from the principal and the department have failed to wash with the Smiths. The department even offered to reconvene the students for a photo and place Luke front and centre.
“Luke doesn’t want to be part of it, he’s done with them,” Mrs Smith said.
“If only one thing comes out of this we don’t want another child with a disability to go through this again.”
The DEC backed an apology from the principal and assured the family it would not happen again.
“The school is reviewing the procedures in how the photos are conducted,” the spokesman said.
“The school is proud of the support it has been able to give to Luke and is very sorry.”