Prosecuted-took autistic daughter on doctor ordered holiday

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23 Feb 2019, 6:51 pm

Parents of autistic girl face court after taking her out of school on doctor's advice

A mother who followed a doctor’s advice and took her daughter on holiday during the term time is being prosecuted.

Suzanne Lee's eight-year-old daughter Rhiannon is autistic and struggles with crowds and noise.

So her paediatrician recommended Suzanne take her away for a holiday during term time when it would be quieter, Birmingham Live reports .

Suzanne and Rhiannon’s dad Ben informed Smith's Wood Primary Academy, near Solihull, they would be taking Rhiannon to Cornwall for five days and the holiday happened in July last year during the last week of term.

But when the new school term began in September the school informed the parents the holiday had not been authorised and Suzanne ended up with a £60 fine, which she refused to pay.

The fine was later increased to £350 and now, because she still hasn’t paid, the case is due to be heard in court later this month.

If Suzanne loses, she could end up paying thousands in legal fees and fines.

"Rhiannon doesn't cope well with lots of people in busy areas so she would struggle if we were to go on holiday in the school holidays," said Suzanne, who is Rhiannon's full time carer and gets a high rate disability living allowance because she requires so much attention.

"That's why we decided to take her out in school time."

Rhiannon was diagnosed as autistic when she was three years old and was later diagnosed with suffering from ADHD and anxiety too.

Suzanne added: "Everything changes in the last week of term as the pupils start getting ready for their new classes. There is no continuity that week and she usually stresses a lot during this time because she doesn't cope very well with change.

"She has top marks in every subject at school and a good attendance record so, for us, it was a no-brainer.

"She had lots of educational experiences on holiday."

Rhiannon has not been on holiday since she was six months old.

The family were given a grant from a family fund that enabled them to go on a Haven holiday to Cornwall.

"I contacted the educational officer at the council and said we had a letter from the paediatrician and they said they would put the fine on hold.

"The paediatrician sent a letter to the headteacher who didn't contact us but responded to her and so the fine was taken off hold, unbeknown to us.

"Then a letter came in December saying we were going to court after various reminders to pay - no reminders had come to us.

"I contacted the educational officer at the council again and he said they couldn't make head nor tail of it.

"Then I then had a letter stating it had been nearly six months and so it had to be put in front of a court now."

As a result, the fines were increased from £60 per parent to £350 per parent.

Suzanne was asked to submit evidence and another hearing is planned for next week. The family have not been invited to attend, according to Suzanne.

hiannon’s headteacher John Talbot said: "Whilst we are unable to comment on individual cases, we would make the following general points:

“We explain to all new parents that holidays are not authorised in term time, except in exceptional circumstances.

“All holiday requests are considered on a case by case basis. However, around 20 per cent of pupils have additional needs and this in itself does not constitute an ‘exceptional circumstance’.

“The law is clear that holidays should not normally be authorised in term time.

“Where a child is persistently absent, a holiday would not normally be authorised.

“Where no holiday request has been made but a holiday has been taken, the holiday would usually be recorded as unauthorised.

“The benefits or regular school attendance and good punctuality are well documented.

“The school year runs for 39 weeks or a 52 week year. This provides 13 weeks for holidays to be taken out of school time."

Smith's Wood Primary Academy ranks in the top 10 schools in Solihull, according to the Real Schools Guide.

More than 20 per cent of the pupils have additional needs.

Rhiannon frequently suffers with intense pain due to bowel issues. It means she can often be up throughout the night screaming and, as a result, is sometimes late for school.

"School starts at 8.45am and if a pupil arrives at just 9.01am, which is sometimes the case for Rhiannon, they get marked as absent,"

"I've spoken to the school about her condition but they continue to send letters home about her attendance, and she stresses so much about them."

Without the days Rhiannon is marked absent due to arriving late, Suzanne believes her daughter has a 97.9 per cent attendance rate.

"The law states children have to have acceptable levels of attendance, I would have thought 97.9 per cent was more than adequate, " she said.

"Whilst on holiday, Rhiannon attended autism-friendly groups and classes, doing music, swimming, arts and crafts and learning about Lands End.

"She got to do all sorts of stuff she normally would not be able to partake in because there would be far too many kids and the staff would never have been able to give her the one to one time."

She added: "All three of my older children luckily did not have to endure this new attendance procedure and managed very well education wise.

"Schools were more understanding of my eldest son's aspergers and anxiety compared to today.

"It’s like the world is going backwards instead of forward."

Suzanne is calling on parents to sign a petition calling for the government to review Section 444 of the The Education Act which relates to action being taken against parents of disabled and special educational needs children with regard low attendance rates or lateness which is related to their needs.

Identified and joined WP August 26, 2013
DSM 5: Autism Spectrum Disorder, DSM IV: Aspergers Moderate Severity

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