Northern Ireland Nursery Settles in Discrimination Case Over Child with Downs Syndrome

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Sarah Woosey

Interim Head of Education Law

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Two parents in Northern Ireland recently took their daughter’s former nursery to court after claiming they discriminated against her. 

The nursery have admitted that the girl, who has Downs Syndrome, was treated less favourably than other children, and they failed to make reasonable adjustments. See how our expert Education Lawyers can help if your child with special educational needs and/or disabilities is facing discrimination.

Please note that our lawyers can only assist with cases in England and Wales but it is clear that these issues occur much more widely than this.

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Amelie Cummins started at Trinity Nursery School, Bangor, in County Down, Northern Ireland in September 2020.

Amelie has Downs Syndrome, and had a statement of special educational needs, which gave her provision to attend the mainstream nursery school with 22.5 hours of classroom support a week.

Amelie, who is now 5, would have to start 15 minutes later than other children at Trinity Nursery School, even though she had a dedicated classroom assistant. The nursery also wanted Amelie to finish the nursery day 15 minutes earlier than the other children. This would have led to her having less time at nursery, affecting the amount of education and care she was getting, so her parents refused to accept it. Amelie’s mother, Michelle, also said the nursery didn't allow her to come into the nursery to be part of the transition for her daughter starting.

Mrs Cummins said when they raised this, and a number of other discriminatory issues, with the nursery, the nursery became quite hostile. This was far from the positive start they wanted for their daughter. They felt they had no option but to take Amelie out of nursery three months later in December 2020.

Amelie’s Parents Bring a Discrimination Claim Against The Nursery

Her parents then brought a claim against the nursery for disability discrimination. It was lodged with the Special Educational Needs and Disability Tribunal, with the support of the Equality Commission.

Amelie’s mother and father spoke of their motivations for the claim:

“We had to drive it forward, because it’s not acceptable. If we’d have done nothing about it, we’d have been as bad as [the nursery]. We knew in our hearts it was the right thing to do and that we should stick with it because we don’t want it to happen to any other child.”

The nursery eventually admitted it treated Amelie less favourably due to her special educational needs, and failed to make reasonable adjustments for her.

A spokesperson for Trinity Nursing School said: \"Whilst we cannot comment on individual pupils, as a school we will take on board all learning from the case and are firmly committed to the principle of equality of opportunity for all disabled pupils”.

The Outcome for Amelie, her Parents and the Nursery

Mr and Mrs Cummins said that the two-year tribunal process was definitely worthwhile, even though it was lengthy and stressful at times. Amelie’s mother has said that while the nursery’s apology will never be enough, she hopes that their actions mean this won’t happen to any other child at the nursery.

Mary Kitson, the senior legal officer for the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland, said it is unacceptable that any child should be treated less favourably because of their disability in education: \"All children must be provided with opportunities to flourish at school, regardless of whether or not they have a disability”.

Amelie has since had a positive experience in another nursery school and is currently thriving in primary school.

Trinity Nursery school has said that they’ll “work with the Equality Commission in ensuring that all of their policies, practices and procedures conform in all respects with national equality legislation in relation to Disability Discrimination in education, as well as best practice”.

How Our Lawyers Can Help if your Child is Experiencing Discrimination

Children like Amelie who have special educational needs and/or disabilities are entitled to a to be treated fairly and to have their needs met whether this is in a nursery, school or college. They should not experience less favourable treatment simply for reasons relating to a disability. Schools, nurseries and colleges (and indeed other settings) are required to ensure that children with disabilities do not unreasonably suffer a detriment. In doing so, they have a duty to make reasonable adjustments to minimise any potential detriment that may be suffered in the ordinary running of things.

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