SENDING your kids to school shouldn’t be an issue, but the parents involved with Voices for Special Needs (VFSN) recount harrowing cases of misconduct towards their children with disability.

Giving evidence to the Parliamentary Inquiry into the state education system in Victoria, VFSN spokesperson, Leanne Vella, alleged that the group, made of victims, their families and whistleblowers, had uncovered 60 students who have reported accounts of school misconduct.

Late last year, Latrobe Special Developmental School was included in a list featuring 44 Victorian schools where students with disabilities have suffered seclusion, neglect and abuse dating back to incidents from 2015.

The list was compiled by the Education Rights support group run by Julie Phillips, one of the state’s most highly regarded disability advocates.

But the Department of Education say they are unaware of any claims of misconduct dated after the 2021 investigation on the school’s culture.

Morwell Sexual Offences and Child Abuse Investigation Team detectives completed an investigation following alleged incidents at an educational facility in Traralgon dating back to 2009; the Police thoroughly investigated the matter and found no criminal offences were detected.

An independent review of school culture at Latrobe SDS was completed in 2021.

The Victorian Department of Education and Training confirmed it was investigating allegations, which include the manhandling of students with disability, alongside WorkSafe and Morwell police.

“We are aware allegations have been raised about inappropriate behaviour towards students at Latrobe Special Developmental School,” a government spokesperson told the Express at the time.

Despite the review, to the Express‘ understanding, no criminal misconduct was found.

The independent review gave opportunities for all school staff to provide feedback and insights into their experience of the school culture.

The review recommended 10 actions. The department developed an action plan comprised of 34 actions, all of which were completed before the end of Term 4 2022, aside from three, which were ongoing activities.

However, the advocacy group, VFSN says these actions weren’t enough, as alleged misconduct is still present within the school.

The VFSN said their evidence and witness accounts are both “historical and present, earliest 2009 to current with discussions occurring throughout 2023 with parents whose children at the time were still residing at the school”.

The VFSN said they no longer deal with the Department of Education, after they felt their voice was not heard.

Instead, they have provided evidence to the Commission for Children & Young People (CCYP) and the Victorian Disability Workers Commission (VDWC).

At the education inquiry hearing on March 27, VFSN advocated for seven recommendations to support the improvement of learning outcomes and development as well as the safety of children with disabilities within special and developmental schools across Victoria. These included an independent compliance authority body and CCTV monitoring.

Ms Vella, the VFSN spokesperson, told the committee that she had heard of serious mistreatment and negligence of students with severe disabilities while in the care of the school.

The VFSN said the real issue with these cases was that many of the students at Latrobe SDS are living with disabilities and are non-verbal, so getting accounts of their mistreatment had come in different forms of communication.

Although the Department of Education and Victoria Police have told the Express they are unaware of recent cases of misconduct at Latrobe SDS, Ms Vella’s testimony at the education inquiry hearing allege some families have recently pursued legal action against the school.

Despite this, The Department of Education said Latrobe SDS is a safe school with high community satisfaction, according to recent surveys.

“The overwhelming majority of parents at Latrobe SDS are supportive of the staff and the work they do to support the learning and development of their children. Recent feedback from parents shows extremely high levels of satisfaction with Latrobe SDS among families,” a Department of Education spokesperson said.

As a result of the independent culture review, the department said Latrobe SDS closely engages and regularly seeks feedback from the school community.

“We have worked closely with the new school leadership of Latrobe SDS to implement the actions established in the independent Culture Review completed in 2021,” a department spokesperson added.

According to the Education Department, recent feedback from parents showed a high percentage of satisfaction, with 97 per cent of parents finding the school ethos and environment positive and 90 per cent of the school community finding the school safe.

Approached by the Express following the claims made at the education inquiry of Latrobe SDS misconduct, the department said it was unaware of any new misconduct claims made against the school since the review was conducted.

The Legislative Council Legal and Social Issues Committee, to which VFSN spoke, has a wide-ranging term of reference for its probe into learning at government schools from Prep to Year 12.

The committee’s report to parliament, which will include its findings and recommendations for the government, is due by June 25.

The Department of Education said if readers have any concerns, they can be raised at: