Cooper is a 12-year-old Aboriginal boy with multiple diagnosed disabilities who attends a regional secondary school. He has limited access to disability and allied health services in the community. Cooper’s warm, friendly manner and determination to succeed led him to be a popular student amongst his peers in primary school and now in his first year at secondary school.
Prior to his transition to secondary school, when Cooper was in Year 6, he and his parents met with the learning diversity team at the local secondary school to discuss his needs and whether he might have better support at a specialist school in the capital city. The school team outlined the facilities at the school and the adjustments they could provide to address Cooper’s needs. Cooper and his family were eager that he stay with his community and on Country rather than having the lengthy daily trip to the city for school. Cooper’s older brothers attended the same school and he was keen to participate in the same school events and cultural activities as they had. It was decided to enrol Cooper at the local school, and the school learning diversity team commenced planning and preparing for his attendance.
In Cooper’s last term of primary school a transition planning meeting was held to plan the adjustments that would be necessary to be in place from day one of his secondary education. The meeting was attended by Cooper’s primary school support team, the secondary school learning diversity team, his teachers, his therapists and school speech pathologist and Cooper with his parents. The case manager from the secondary school team was appointed as Cooper’s liaison person with whom he would be able to discuss issues and needs as they arise. This also provided an opportunity for the secondary school team to start his individual education plan (IEP), which would be reviewed and modified if necessary within a month of the beginning of the school year. The school began the modifications required to Cooper’s classrooms and the school grounds and installed the technology needed.
Currently, Cooper has mild/moderate cerebral palsy and moderate hearing impairment in both ears. He wears orthotics (Ankle-Foot Orthosis) and uses posture wedges for his seating in class, one of which is kept in each of his classrooms. He uses hearing aids during the school day that are connected to a sound field system in each of his classrooms, which he manages independently with only occasional reminders from staff.
Cooper can walk short distances independently, however his physical (PT) and occupational therapists (OT) have recommended adjustments to physical activities in some curriculum areas. The school has developed alternative tasks and assessments that take into consideration his physical and sensory disabilities, for example, allowing additional time to complete tasks that require him to move between workstations, and providing transcripts for audio-based assessments.
Cooper has a keen interest in sports. In consultation with Cooper and his support team, the school adapts some activities to enable him to participate, such as including more rest breaks and alternatives for activities that require running. Cooper is an active member of the school’s Year 7 cricket club and is the team’s specialist slip fielder and a capable middle-order batsman.
During an inter-school cricket match earlier in the year, a student from the visiting side was overheard calling Cooper a ‘cheat’ for using a runner when batting. The confrontation didn’t escalate and was addressed by the supervising teachers at the time. Cooper’s parents were notified immediately. Cooper and his parents considered the incident to be relatively minor, and didn’t wish to make a formal complaint. However, it did lead the coaches from both teams to contact the state’s cricket association, to develop a short program to raise awareness of equity and inclusion in sport. This educational program was developed in consultation with local school teams. A code of conduct was developed for players and coaches to address issues of victimisation and harassment with a process for handling similar incidents. A draft of the code was initially discussed with Cooper and his parents, who suggested some additional changes to better reflect cultural safety issues. Feedback was also sought from local disability sporting groups and the code endorsed by schools in the competition.
The school installed a sound field system in Cooper’s classrooms prior to his commencing and his teachers use it to link with Cooper’s hearing aids to ensure that he can tune in and focus on classroom activities. The technology was new to the school and the teaching staff attended a workshop to familiarise themselves with the system. The other students in Cooper’s classes were introduced to the system and ways they could accommodate Cooper’s needs. Cooper is often seated towards the front of the group for instructions, but in the middle for class discussions. Students are reminded to wait before talking to give Cooper time to locate them in the room and focus. Outside the classrooms his teachers make sure Cooper knows that instructions are being given by ensuring they have his attention first.
Any staff that have Cooper for the first time and students in his class are reminded at the start of each term of the need to be mindful of Cooper’s requirements. Cooper and his classroom teachers are also supported by visiting diversity teachers who provide learning support about adjustments for hearing and physical impairments. These teachers are part of the school’s team approach with Cooper and are an important part of the individual planning for Cooper and often suggest adjustments for consideration that other schools have found effective.
A visiting speech pathologist assists in planning instructional language that includes teaching strategies to develop Cooper’s receptive language when not in the classroom with the sound field system. The school has also arranged for professional development for the teachers and Cooper’s parents about language/speech development and hearing loss so that his teachers can better design their learning and teaching strategies. Cooper’s parents shared the strategies they use at home, such as signalling or signing. Two times a week, during school hours, Cooper accesses a private OT and PT using the school’s gym. This assists his engagement in the IEP and supports his keen interest in sports participation. Cooper attends regular sessions of hydrotherapy after school but participates in the school’s in-term swimming program focusing on water safety.
Cooper and his case manager meet weekly to discuss his progress and the adjustments he receives. The case manager feeds this information into the regular reviews of Cooper’s IEP. Cooper’s parents also collaborate with teachers to determine the supports in place and regularly communicate with the school via email, over the phone, or through online meetings, in addition to the face-to-face planning meeting at the beginning of the year and a mid-year review meeting. These meetings involve all the members of Cooper’s school support team including his therapists. Cooper and his mother attend the meetings in person and his father, who often works on projects interstate, attends meetings online when possible and receives email copies of the draft minutes when he’s not in town.