HC allows ‘shadow teacher’ for autistic child

Five months after the Jamnabai Narsee School removed a seven-year-old autistic child citing the reason that he was not fitting into the classroom environment and by demanding constant attention was disturbing the other children, the child will return to the same school, armed with a Bombay High Court order and a 'shadow teacher' in tow.

In the first legal sanction in the country for a 'shadow teacher' to sit with a child in classroom, the HC on Thursday allowed the child to attend class with a trained special educator who will sit with the student and help him acquire necessary skills to function independently.

The court has also asked a committee appointed by the Maharashtra State Commission for Protection of Child Rights (MSCPCR) to assess the progress for a month.

Dr Samir Dalwai, a behavioural paediatrician, who will make the assessment said the case would set a precedent for the rights of autistic children. "It will promote the concept of shadow teachers to support such children within the mainstream school system. It is very easy to talk about inclusive education, very difficult to implement it. It is for the first time in India that legal sanction has been given to the concept of shadow teacher," he told The Indian Express.

A division bench of Justice S J Vazifdar and Justice R Y Ganoo allowed the child to be accompanied by the shadow teacher. "The shadow teacher will be appointed by the parents at their cost," said lawyer Pradeep Havnur who represented the parents.

The school based in Juhu had in July asked the parents to take the child out of the school saying he displayed behaviour that could be detrimental to him and his classmates.

In a letter to the parents, Principal Sudeshna Chatterjee stated that the school "had pooled all resources, including paediatricians, counsellors and special educators to enable the child to meet the challenges of regular school life".

However, over the last two years, the child's condition had worsened on account of his frustration and inability to express his needs to teachers, the letter said. This resulted in the child "disturbing the remaining 44 students on account of his constant wandering about the classroom, shrill shrieks, escaping from the classroom and constantly demanding the teacher's attention".

The letter stated that the school was unable to provide personal attention to the child and suggested that the parents put him in a school that can give him personal attention for the duration of his learning hours. The boy, diagnosed with a few traits of autistic spectrum disorder, has been in the school since June 2007.

The Right to Education Act specifies that not only can a school not deny admission to special children, but once a student is admitted, it has to ensure the child sees through his entire school education. The parents approached the director of the Sarva Siksha Abhiyan.

An officer was sent to the school, who recommended that the child be re-admitted. They filed an application with MSCPCR, and the commission on November 8 appointed an expert committee of three doctors to monitor and evaluate the boy's condition.

The committee headed by Dr Dalwai recommended that the child be allowed to continue at the school with the help of a shadow teacher for at least six months, and if there was no improvement, the boy's parents should "seek an environment where he would get more personalised care".

The parents had offered to provide a shadow teacher and pay for his services, although other schools provide such teachers at their own cost.

The parents and the principal declined to comment.

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