Students with disabilities should be removed from mainstream classrooms because they are putting a strain on teachers and schools, One Nation Senator Pauline Hanson has told parliament.
"These kids have a right to an education by all means," Senator Hanson said.
"But if there is a number of them, these children should go into a special classroom and be... given that special attention because most of the time the teachers spend so much time on them.
"They forget about the child who … wants to go ahead [in] leaps and bounds in their education."
Senator Hanson told the Senate on Wednesday that she was supporting the federal government's Gonski 2.0 school funding plan because she feared education standards were plummeting, citing poor maths results and the Safe Schools program.
But it was comments she made about students with autism that has enraged the disability sector and ignited Twitter.
"We can't afford to hold our kids back: we have the rest of the world and other kids in other countries who are going ahead [in] leaps and bounds ahead of us," Senator Hanson said.
Children and Young People with Disability Australia chief executive Stephanie Gotlib labelled the Senator's comments "ill-informed and deeply offensive".
"Senator Hanson should also be mindful that access to inclusive education is a human right," she said.
"Ignorant remarks such as these demonstrate that she clearly needs to take up this offer as soon as possible."
Fiona Sharkey, chief executive of Amaze (Autism Victoria), accused Senator Hanson of "advocating for a more segregated school environment rather than an inclusive one".
In response to Senator Hanson's speech, Opposition Leader Bill Shorten read out an email to Parliament from a parent of a child with an intellectual disability.
"To hear one of our parliamentarians argue that kids with disabilities don't belong in mainstream classes doesn't shock me - but it does break my heart all over again," he said.
"It doesn't matter how many times it has happened before I feel the knife twist again."
Special education academics said the Senator's comments flew in the face of research which shows inclusive education is beneficial to students with and without disabilities.
Dr David Roy, a lecturer at the University of Newcastle's School of Education, said studies had shown "the exact opposite" of Senator Hanson's comments.
"Children with a disability may have a deficit in one area, but will often and regularly have an asset in the other so they can support other children in the classroom who aren't good with language or literacy, who aren't good with maths … and see an alternative way of doing something."
Melbourne University special education expert Dr Shiralee Poed conceded that Senator Hanson's comments would be "popular" among frustrated teachers and parents.
"Hanson's comments will be popular because there are people in society who feel like kids with disabilities are impacting on their child," she said.
She said schools were stretched for resources and teachers were not being adequately trained in supporting students with disabilities. But the problem was with the system, not the students, she said.
"The solution isn't removal," she said. "Schools are challenged in terms of resources they have available to support the full range of learners and not all teachers are receiving training … but it's a simplistic view to place the blame on the child.
"Our focus needs to be on what needs to be done to improve the system."
Principals' Association of Specialist Schools in Victoria president Peter Bush said Senator Hanson's comments had "missed the mark" as under-resourced mainstream schools would now be more able to support students with disabilities under the new funding arrangement.
Australian Primary Principals Association president Dennis Yarrington said schools must be inclusive and ensure discrimination laws were upheld.
"We would certainly distance any support for her comments," he said. "We are an inclusive society … we want to see that students with disabilities have every right to attend their local school as any other student."
Autism advocacy bodies estimate that one in 100 Australians are diagnosed with autism.
The Australian Education Union has been approached for comment.
Sign up for our newsletter to stay up to date.