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‘Drowning in hurt’: Caithness mum’s desperate struggle to get an education for her autistic son

Sofia Dos Santos with her son Danny
Sofia Dos Santos with her son Danny

A Caithness mum says her autistic son has been “denied his right to an education” after being excluded from school for two years.

Sofia Dos Santos and her husband Jo have been battling to maintain 15-year-old Danny’s schooling after he was excluded from Wick High School following an altercation on a bus with another child.

Events escalated afterwards into continued exclusion and home schooling for Danny.

School bosses insist they have been doing their best to support the teen and his family, but Mrs Dos Santos believes they have been treated poorly.

She has taken her complaint as far as she can in Highland Council’s education department, and around two months ago was promised an investigation into what had happened.

Now she has hit another brick wall.

Mrs Dos Santos said: “I was told by Alison Donald, area education quality improvement manager, that what happened is all in the past, and they will not hear the evidence I have gathered showing in detail how the school has failed Danny.”

Claims of xenophobic taunts

Mrs Dos Santos said that evidence, which she has in emails, telephone calls and recordings, includes “xenophobic comments and lies used to cover up their wrongdoing”.

She added: “We were asked to relocate back to where we came from, we are Portuguese, or back to England.

“The incident on the bus was racially related, Danny was told that he is a pig, his family are pigs and for us to go back to our country.

“Under such provocation Danny has lashed out, but he is not a violent child.

“We have done our best to try and home school him for the past two years, which includes running up debt to have a shed built where he can do things he enjoys such as joinery and mechanical work.”

Danny has also spent all his own savings and money from his grandfather to contribute to the cost of his schooling.

Mrs Dos Santos said: “Danny has always said he wants an education and we have tried and tried to get the school to take him back, even with several letters from the psychologist, where it states the mental impacts of such exclusion is having on Danny and the whole family.

“What the school and the council has done to Danny by refusing to accept him in school is not only discriminatory but also illegal.”

‘We came to Caithness for a quieter life’

Mrs Dos Santos said the family chose to come to Caithness for a quieter life following racial abuse they suffered in England.

The family’s efforts to get Danny back into school have involved numerous meetings, including a recent online mediation.

Mrs Dos Santos is studying environmental science at UHI, while husband Jo works full time as a quarry worker.

Doctor backs return to school for Danny

Mrs Dos Santos has shared with the P&J a letter from Dr Stephanie Govenden, consultant community pediatrician in Caithness to the head teacher at Wick High School.

The letter, from March last year, states Dr Govenden’s support for Danny’s return to education.

Dr Govenden writes: “To keep him away from education when he has an absolute right to be educated, and to access education, is deeply unfair and discriminates against him as a disabled child with a diagnosis of ASD.

“I am also writing to let you know with Danny and his mum’s permission that this prolonged exclusion has caused him significant personal distress and his mental health is deteriorating…

“It strikes me then that it is even more upsetting to Danny to not be allowed in to school following one episode of disturbance, which undoubtedly was significant, but he has served the penalty for this already.

“It seems harsh and unfair to continue to penalise him for this and not allow him any opportunity to demonstrate that he has learned from this episode.”

Situation takes emotional toll

Mrs Dos Santos said the family has been left isolated and unsupported, resulting in her having a mental breakdown last year.

“I just felt like crying all the time, I felt I was drowning in hurt.

“Seeing my son upset and worried that he would not have a future, having to have to go for a drive in the middle of the night, just so he could calm down.

“They have no idea, of all that they are putting us through.

“It’s inhumane.”

The latest plan, brokered by Danny’s children’s advocate,  is to send Danny to Thurso College next term for a foundation year to catch up on his missing education.

A Highland Council spokeswoman said: “It is not appropriate for Highland Council to comment on the individual circumstances of our pupils, however, we can confirm we are engaging with Ms Santos regarding her son’s education and have been supporting Danny with his recent application to move forward in his career.

“Highland Council has a commitment to working to support children with additional support needs to work in partnership with parents, carers, children and young people to identify and understand their needs.

“The underpinning principle in all of our ASN policies is that children and young people are supported to achieve their potential.

“Our policy and guidance on supporting children with autism was written in conjunction with parents and organisations supporting families with children who have been identified as autistic.

“At all times the school has sought to safeguard and promote the educational wellbeing and safety of all pupils.”

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