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Special needs girl in sling after 4-hour written test in Dubai

Dubai: An award-winning special needs girl ended up with her arm in a sling after her school allegedly forced her to write a test for four hours.

Emirati Fatma Al Jassmi, 17, suffers from cerebral palsy and moves around in a wheelchair. In view of her physical condition, she claimed she was promised a shadow writer, but on the day of her exam, the school reneged on its promise.

"At one point, my hand hurt so badly I began to cry. I begged for a shadow writer but my pleas remained unheard," said Fatma.

Left with no choice, the seventh grader braved the test herself.

The consequences were disastrous. Fatma came home writhing in pain. She was taken to a health centre where she was diagnosed with a sprain in her shoulder joint. A specialist neurosurgeon at another clinic later said it was a case of "shoulder rotator cuff tendonitis". Five months on, she has yet to recover. She now studies from home and undergoes physio-therapy daily.

Doctor's comment

The health centre that treated her soon after the January incident wrote in the medical report: "The pain started after participating in a written examination which lasted for four hours. When I saw her in my clinic, she complained of severe pain and difficulty in moving the hand above arm level."

Fatma was a student of the Al Salam School for Secondary and Elementary Education located in Al Barsha. She said she agreed to appear for the UAE Ministry of Education's National Assessment Programme (NAP) assessment on the condition that the school would provide her a shadow writer.

"Although the test was not mandatory, I took it up on the understanding that a shadow writer would pitch in if I felt tired," said Fatma, who received the Shaikh Hamdan Bin Rashid Al Maktoum Award for Distinguished Academic Performance last month.

"We trusted them. But on the first day itself, I did not get any help despite repeated requests. They kept telling me I could do it on my own. I felt so helpless," she said.

Her mother Khawla Al Sumaiti said she was shocked when she saw Fatma's condition as she came out of school. "Her left hand was shaking badly. She was in acute pain and crying."

"I took up the matter with the school and was assured it would not happen again. I believed them and sent Fatma for the English test on the following day. But when I went to school to check if she was okay, I found her in deep pain. Unable to write, she left the exam mid-way."

"We did not send her to school for 10 days and the school did not enquire about her once. When a family member went to get her maths book, they sent all her belongings back," alleged Khawla, who approached the Dubai Education Zone and the Ministry of Education with her complaint.

However, an enquiry (see box) ruled out any wrongdoing on the part of the school.

‘No link between injury and exam'

The Dubai Education Zone said an inquiry conducted into the alleged incident revealed no link between the injury and the examination.

Dr Ahmad Eid Al Mansouri, Dubai Education Zone Director General, told XPRESS: "The school has denied any responsibility for Fatma Al Jassmi's injury." He said he had ordered an inquiry into the incident after Fatma's mother, Khawla Al Sumaiti, lodged a complaint with the zone. The school's director and staff were also summoned following the submission of the inquiry report.

He said as per the inquiry, the school had complied with Fatma's request to allow her more time to complete her exam. But the school has denied that she asked for a shadow writer to complete the exam or that it had not inquired about her during her absence.

Even so, Dr Al Mansoori said he had apologised on behalf of the zone and the school to the girl's mother for any misunderstanding that may have arisen over the issue when she recently aired her views on a radio programme. He said Fatma's mother did not want to continue with the school and had opted for home study for her.

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