Fears for safety of disabled student who must start attending ‘violent’ school

There are fears for the safety of a severely disabled child after an application for him to bypass the town’s only high school due to student violence was rejected.

Walgett resident Xander McKenzie, 12, has hydrocephalus, a condition that means he is tube-fed, in a wheelchair and has a shunt in his brain.

His mother, Kylie McKenzie, formally asked for him to stay at the local primary school for another year but the NSW Department of Education denied her application.

He is now required to start at Walgett Community College in 2023.

But Ms McKenzie said her son would be too vulnerable and said Xander’s therapists agreed.

“We’ve been to meetings here before and chairs and tables have come flying over from the second level,” Ms McKenzie said. 

“He can’t get out of the way. One knock anywhere between his head and his stomach where he has a shunt place could be life-threatening.”

‘Let common sense prevail’

Walgett is a town already devoid of education options due to its isolated location, almost 300 kilometres away from the nearest inland city, Dubbo.

Zoning regulations dictate children can only attend either of two local primary schools and the only secondary school, which has been plagued with violence.

Ms McKenzie was informed Department of Education guidelines dictated her son had to move to the high school because of his age.

“The Department of Education looks at all disabled children the same,” she said.

A group of women surround a boy in a wheelchair in front of a fenced building
Kylie McKenzie [C] says she fears for her son’s safety if he is forced to attend Walgett’s only high school.(ABC News: Olivia Ralph)

Ms McKenzie said it had taken years for Xander to get assistance with staff and modifications to which he now had access.

“We’d like to keep Xander where he is, where he’s happy,” she said.

“The education department has spent a fortune in the last 12 months on provisions at the primary school for him and now they’re telling us he can’t stay.”

She attended a protest during the NSW Education Minister Sarah Mitchell’s visit to Walgett yesterday after not receiving a response to requests for help.

“Let common sense prevail,” Ms McKenzie said.

“He has a mental age of three years old.”

Big sister’s fears

Xander’s older sister Anicia left Walgett Community College last year after she was assaulted twice at the school, moving away from her family to attend school in central Queensland.

“As his sister who went through trauma here and suffers [poor] mental health from this school, I don’t want him — a vulnerable person with severe disabilities — to go to a school like this,” the 16-year-old said.

Three women stand in a circle talking on a sidewalk
NSW Education Minister Sarah Mitchell speaks to protesters outside Walgett Community College.(ABC News: Olivia Ralph)

“If there’s a fight and he’s near that fight and gets bumped, I might not have a brother anymore.

“I want the minister to listen to how terrible the school has gotten over the years.”

Meeting with the minister

Education Minister Sarah Mitchell met Xander and spoke with his family when they attended the protest in Walgett.

“It’s now about me going to see what other things can we put in place for Xander, how can we make sure he’s supported,” Ms Mitchell said.

“I’ve already given an undertaking to his family that I will come back to them and work with him to see what options we’ve got, so Xander can continue to have great opportunities and get that love and support that he so clearly has from his family and from his community.”

A boy in a wheelchair sitting next to a woman standing and smiling
Xander meets with Education Minister Sarah Mitchell.(Supplied: Kylie McKenzie)

She commended Anicia for advocating for her little brother.

“I was really impressed by how strong these young people were in their advocacy for their community, particularly in relation to Xander and to meet his sister, mother and grandmother,” she said.

“It was really wonderful for me to meet them and understand.”

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