A family from Co Down hope they can help other children stop being discriminated against as their daughter was at nursery school.

Michelle and Alan Cummins filed a lawsuit against Trinity Nursery School in Bangor on behalf of their five-year-old daughter Amelie.

Amelie was born with Down syndrome and has special educational needs for 22.5 hours of classroom support per week.

Despite this, every morning she had to wait 15 minutes longer than all her classmates to go to school when she entered Trinity Kindergarten in September 2020.

And this despite the fact that Amelie had a dedicated class assistant who was there every morning.

Michelle and Alan also claimed that the school wanted Amelie to finish school 15 minutes earlier every day, something they disagreed with.

The Bangor couple made the decision to suspend them from the school in December 2020 and then pursued a two-year lawsuit against the school that ultimately ended in a settlement.

“It’s one of the hardest things we’ve been through, it’s been extremely stressful,” said Michelle.

“What they did to us is terrible.

Amelie with her brother Caleb and parents Michelle and Alan
Amelie with her brother Caleb and parents Michelle and Alan

“It’s been two long years and we had to fight to get them to acknowledge our complaint. They admitted they had discriminated against Amelie.

“But they only did it after two years and after we had to go to court, which is a long, difficult process.”

Michelle said Amelie is now in P1 and is doing much better after moving to another nursery, but the falling out with Trinity has spoiled her experience as a parent.

“They didn’t allow me to be part of the transition for Amelie’s beginner kindergarten, so I wasn’t allowed in kindergarten,” she added.

“And there were some other things that they just dismissed that we would have wanted as appropriate adjustments.

“And it just didn’t sit well with us that we had to remove them.

“The kindergarten experience was meant to be exciting and fun, but it was the complete opposite.”

Amelie’s father, Alan, said they persevered because they felt it was the right thing for other parents to do too.

“I’m glad we stuck with it and I think there were times when we doubted whether we should go through with it,” he said.

Amelie with her parents Alan and Michelle
Amelie with her parents Alan and Michelle

“It is so important for Amelie and other children who may be at school to see that you are treated correctly and that there is a process if something goes wrong.

“Amelie is not a second-class citizen, she should have the same rights and experiences as any child.

“There are other people who might be scared or worried about taking on things like this and we felt it was up to us to take a step forward and make sure things like this don’t happen to other people.”

The Cummins were assisted by the Equality Commission during the court case.

In settling the case, Trinity Nursery accepted that they treated Amelie less favorably because of her disability and failed to make reasonable accommodation for her.

The school also apologized to Amelie and her parents for the upset caused.

“While we cannot comment on individual students, as a school we will take everything from the case and stand up for the principle of equal opportunities for all students with disabilities,” said a school president.

“We will also work with the Equality Commission to ensure that all our policies, practices and procedures fully comply with national equality legislation in relation to disability discrimination in education, as well as best practice.

Mary Kitson, senior legal officer at the Equality Commission, said: “It is unacceptable that a student should be treated less favorably because of his or her disability.

Amelie is now thriving at a new school
Amelie is now thriving at a new school

“We really wish this had not happened to Amelie, that as a disabled child she has the right to a comprehensive, quality education.

“She should not be treated less favourably, her needs as a disabled student should be taken into account at all stages of her education.

“We are delighted that the Commission will work with the school to review their policies and procedures to ensure this does not happen again to another child with a disability.

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