Mother of Indigenous boy with dwarfism tells royal commission education about children with disabilities needs to improve
Mon 12 Oct 2020 06.28 BST
The mother of Quaden Bayles has told the disability royal commission her family is still receiving death threats and abuse months after their anti-bullying video went viral.
Indigenous woman Yarraka Bayles, whose son Quaden has dwarfism, said on Monday she wanted to use her new platform to change the way the education system dealt with the bullying of children with disabilities.
Bayles explained the lead-up to the video on the first day of a new round of hearings focused on the education system on Monday.
The commission was told how Bayles arrived at Quaden’s school and spotted a group of students patting him on the head and making fun of his height.
She asked Quaden if he was OK, but he shooed her away, the commission heard.
“But then, when he got to the car, he let it out,” the counsel assisting, Kerri Mellifont QC, said.
Quaden had been “hysterically crying and screaming about wanting to kill himself”, the commission heard.
A frustrated Bayles posted the video after she called the school to raise the situation but was told staff would look into it the next day.
The clip – in which the Murri boy urges his mother to “give me a knife, I’m going to kill myself” – made global headlines and prompted an outpouring of support for the family.
Quaden, a keen Rabbitohs fan, was given the opportunity to walk on to the pitch for an exhibition match in Queensland between Australia’s Indigenous All Stars, made up of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander players, and the New Zealand Māori.
But the Queensland family has also faced abuse and threats, the commission heard.
“After that video went viral, you actually received online trolling and abuse from people you don’t even know,” Mellifont said.
“Yes, still to this day, every day,” Bayles replied. “People who think it’s their business to make comment.”
Bayles said the family received “lots of death threats … against my children, my granddaughter”.
Last month Guardian Australia reported that the Bayles family was set to receive close to $200,000 in damages plus legal costs after an agreement was reached with the News Corp columnist Miranda Devine over tweets she had shared.
Bayles told the commission Quaden’s school had attempted to improve the situation after her video went viral, but she feared he would be forced to return to permanent home schooling.
However, Quaden is now back at school, in part thanks to his year 4 teacher, Bayles said.
In a pre-recorded video, Quaden was asked by Mellifont what he’d like to see change at his school.
“Probably … one more support worker. A Murri one,” he said. “So when [the support worker] is away, I can have that one and he’s gonna be there.”
Asked about his message to new students who might not know about his disability, he said: “Just don’t be rude to kids who have disabilities and just be kind and be nice.”
Bayles said she would like to see less focus on “anti-bullying”. She said a disability organisation had offered to give a presentation on dwarfism to the whole student cohort, but the school was yet to set a time.
She raised the prospect of an anonymous reporting system that could monitor whether students were being bullied.
“I would rather not call these kids bullies,” she said. “I don’t believe they want to hurt kids. They don’t understand the consequence of their actions. I don’t want to get kids expelled or suspended because that doesn’t help.
“I don’t blame them or the school, in some respects. There’s just not enough education around kids with disabilities, let alone Murri kids with disabilities, in school.”
The hearing continues.
In Australia, the crisis support service Lifeline is 13 11 14. In the US, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255. In the UK, Samaritans can be contacted on 116 123. Other international suicide helplines can be found at befrienders.org