College to appeal over disabled student

19th September 2003 at 01:00
A college forced by a landmark court order to enrol a disabled student has mounted a legal challenge to get the decision overturned.

St Dominic's sixth-form college, in Harrow-on-the-Hill, Middlesex, this week launched an appeal against a mandatory injunction compelling it to admit a 17-year-old wheelchair user.

The student, cerebral palsy sufferer Anthony Ford-Shubrook, has just completed his first two weeks of A-level courses in geography and information technology. But the college has announced it is to continue its court battle to bar the teenager from studying there.

At the same time, however, the college is also appealing against a planning ruling by the local authority that has prevented it building new workshops to accommodate Anthony and other disabled students.

The Disabled Rights Commission, which fought the case on Anthony's behalf, confirmed that the college had lodged an appeal against the injunction. DRC spokeswoman Sue Pratt said: "The outcome could be that Anthony may be removed from the college."

Last month's county court decision was the first time an injunction had been used to enforce the Disability Discrimination Act of 2002 which makes it unlawful for disabled students to be treated "less favourably" when applying to a college, school or university.

The decision has implications for colleges throughout the country where there are problems in providing wheelchair access to students for all courses. Under the Act, colleges should ensure that buildings are made fully accessible to wheelchairs by September 2005, where it is "reasonable" to do so.

Meanwhile, Anthony's father is awaiting delivery of a stair-climbing wheelchair, for which he is paying pound;22,000, to allow his son full access to the college's facilities. But the college has objected to the use of the wheelchair on health and safety grounds.

Tony Shubrook said: "Anthony has completed his first week at the college and is settling down well. However, he has problems with access to IT lessons which are held on the first floor.

"We are working with the college, the Learning and Skills Council and health and safety consultants to try to resolve them. The college wants to do what is right but there are obstacles."

One of those obstacles is the rejection by Harrow Council of a planning application for a building to house information technology suites, science laboratories and arts workshops. Building work was due to be completed before this term began, but the application was defeated following objections from local residents. The college is a listed building and is in a conservation area.

College principal Neville Ransley said: "The new building would have made it possible for students like Anthony to be taught without difficulty. We are now in the process of appealing that decision."

Peter Pledger, executive director of the London West LSC, said: "Interim measures have been put in place to support Anthony at the college while we await the decisions of the courts and the planning authorities which affect his future."

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