A mum has won a legal battle over not sending her son to school for a year – because he was too frightened to attend.
The mum claimed her 10-year-old son was terrified after he was restrained by staff at a specialist school in central Lancashire and was too traumatised to go back.
Lancashire County Council prosecuted the mum for failing to ensure her son attended the school regularly, but a court cleared her after hearing evidence about the health of the boy, who is autistic.
The woman and the school cannot be identified because of a court order protecting the boy’s identity.
There is now an ongoing civil case to establish the suitability of the independent school for the youngster, as his mum claims it is unable to meet her son’s needs.
Today, the woman told the Evening Post: “This case isn’t just about fighting for my son’s rights or highlighting our own experiences – it about other families and children like him who may be experiencing similar difficulties.”
The mum told Preston Magistrates’ Court her son had been dragged from an outside play area, locked in a dark room and on one occasion a teacher threatened to kick him. She told the court he was left suffering post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after the incidents.
The school’s headteacher said there had been three incidents at the school involving the boy, but they had not been as severe as he had reported to his mother and had taken place to ensure his safety. She said the room did not have locks and the boy had been ushered in from outside as he was trying to abscond.
However, child clinical psychologist Dr Joanne Elliot told the court the boy’s illness came from his perception of the incidents, and it was irrelevant to the case as to how his trauma had come about.
She confirmed he is now displaying signs of PTSD and said a return to school would exacerbate his condition.
Following an extended period of absence, which was marked as unauthorised by the school, LCC prosecuted the mum for failing to ensure her son attended school regularly.
But district judge Jane Goodwin ruled in the mother’s favour.
After hearing evidence from Dr Ellis, Judge Goodwin said: “This boy clearly suffers a number of issues that need to be addressed in due course.
“This is not a case about what did and didn’t happen in June around the issues of restraint. That is not an issue for this court.
“What is an issue is how the boy perceived these matters and the impact on his health.”
The court heard the mother had not provided a doctor’s note verifying her son was unwell, although she did write in August asking to withdraw her son from the school.
The family doctor made a referral to CAMHS (Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services) but when she discovered the waiting list for assessment is around 17 months, the boy’s mum instructed Dr Elliot to provide a private report on her behalf.
Judge Goodwin said: “I am satisfied you have proven on the balance of probability that your son was ill during the appropriate period.”
Speaking after the case, the boy’s mother said: “We have been used as pawns in a financial game of chess and summoned to court to explain and justify why a GP’s sick note was not provided.
“This is totally unfair as we have provided a more comprehensive report prepared by a child clinical psychologist who diagnosed my child with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.”
The Rainbow Autism Support group now plans to lodge a complaint with government.
It is understood a tribunal will take place in September to establish the suitability of the school for the youngster.
A county council spokesman said of the magistrates’ case: “Taking parents to court over non-attendance at school is a serious matter which is only ever done as a last resort.
“However our aim throughout is not to punish parents but to ensure that children and young people attend school and receive a good education.”