October 18: School Governance Weekly Wrap

AUSTRALIA

WorkSafe Launches Action Against Australian Capital Territory Government Over School Assaults

According to The Age, Worksafe ACT has taken action against the ACT Government after a two-year investigation into violence in public schools found it had failed in its duty of care to staff. Work Safety commissioner Greg Jones revealed it had slapped an enforceable undertaking on the ACT education directorate, alleging the Government had breached its legislated responsibilities by not doing all that was “reasonably practical” to ensure the safety of its staff. Although investigators had focused their attention on just three public schools deemed to be the most at risk between 2016 and 2018, Mr Jones said the problem was systemic in a directorate where existing workplace violence policies were neither flexible nor fully implemented. ABC News reported that Worksafe’s investigation focused on three incidents between February 2016 and February 2017, including one in which a teacher was hospitalised after being kicked by a kindergarten student in class. The same student was identified in multiple violent incidents throughout the year, including with a pregnant staff member who was struck in the abdomen several times by the student.

Child Abuse Survivors in Limbo as Institutions Grapple with National Redress Scheme

ABC News has reported that more than five thousand individual schools, groups and other institutions have already joined the National Redress Scheme, with the Catholic and Anglican churches expected to formally engage with it over the coming months, however many institutions are still working out whether they can afford to join the redress scheme. As an example, a former resident of a children’s home in Ballarat says she has been told she may have to wait more than two years for compensation if the institution decides not to opt in to the voluntary National Redress Scheme. Institutions have until June 2020 to formally sign on to the scheme.

Family Violence Perpetrators Using School Apps and Web Portals to Harass, Stalk and Intimidate

According to ABC News, schools may not think about new technology through the lens of family violence before rolling it out, suggested Emily Maguire, the chief executive of the Domestic Violence Resource Centre Victoria but the role of technology in family violence is a recognised phenomenon: The 2015 ReCharge survey of 546 domestic-violence-sector workers found 98 per cent said they had clients who had experienced technology-facilitated stalking and abuse — most commonly, via text messages. While policies and obligations vary, most public and independent schools have a responsibility to protect confidential information and to respond to the online safety of students – in particular, the article mentions the use of a school app called Seesaw.

Read the Full 20 Recommendations from the Religious Freedoms Review

According to The Sydney Morning Herald, Prime Minister Scott Morrison has vowed to make public the report from the Religious Freedoms Review towards the end of the year, when he also plans to release the government’s response. However, this article outlines in full the 20 recommendations from the Religious Freedoms Review. According to The New Daily, gay students and teachers could be rejected by religious schools under changes to anti-discrimination laws being recommended by the federal review into religious freedom. The former attorney general Philip Ruddock, who chaired the Review, said the right of schools to turn away gay students and teachers should be enshrined in the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 (Cth). The Sydney Morning Herald reported that any change to the law should only apply to new enrolments. The school would have to have a publicly available policy outlining its position, and should regard the best interests of the child as the “primary consideration of its conduct”. The panel also agreed that faith-based schools should have some discretion to discriminate in the hiring of teachers on the basis of religious belief, sexual orientation, gender identity or relationship status.

Students in 50 Knife Threats in Western Australian Schools

According to The West, WA public schools have reported 50 incidents of students armed with knives threatening classmates or teachers this year, including a high school pupil who left class to call a relative to bring a machete to his school. Incident reports obtained from the Education Department reveal schools recorded 93 cases of students being found with a knife between February and the end of term three. Of those, 50 incidents involved students menacing others and 43 involved students found with a knife in their possession without intending to cause harm. The Department’s acting deputy Director General of schools, Stephen Baxter, said that while the number of knife incidents was low, representing 0.017 per cent of students, it was never acceptable to bring any kind of knife to school.

Northern Territory Teacher ‘Watchdog’ Refused to Investigate Allegation of Serious Assault of a Special-Needs Child

According to the NT News, the NT’s Teacher Registration Board refused to investigate a complaint alleging a serious physical assault by a teacher of a special-needs child, claiming it had no power to act. Documents obtained by the NT News show the board voted to dismiss the complaint about the assault, which took place out-of-hours on school grounds, because the teacher was “acting in her capacity” as an after school sports coach. A complaint lodged with the board by a parent alleges the teacher admitted to the assault during a recorded conversation, and that a fellow teacher told her the assault was “unacceptable” but did not report it to the authorities. The NT News understands the family of the special needs child did not want to force him to relive the alleged assault by giving a police statement. The teacher continues to work at a suburban Darwin school. The board has repeatedly told the NT News it acts in the best interest of children.

INTERNATIONAL

Early Childcare Teacher Dropped Toddler Like “A Sack Of Spuds”

According to the NZ Herald, an early childcare teacher charged with serious misconduct against a child is accused of dropping a toddler aggressively on the floor “like a sack of spuds”. The teacher, who has interim name suppression, is before the New Zealand Teachers Disciplinary Tribunal in Wellington, where details of the alleged incident are being heard. The incident unfolded at a centre in September 2016, as the teacher was trying to get children to come sit on the mat. Giving evidence herself, the teacher said she knelt by the bed and picked the girl up by one hand and put her down on a thick, shaggy mat. The teacher said she was frustrated by having to work with her colleague, who she said did not pull her weight.

Pope Francis Defrocks Two Chilean Bishops Over Sexual Abuse Allegations

According to ABC News, Pope Francis has defrocked two Chilean bishops accused of sexually abusing minors, as he tries to tackle the Catholic Church’s sexual abuse scandals around the world. The Vatican said that Francisco Jose Cox Huneeus, 84, the former archbishop emeritus of La Serena, and Marco Antonio Ordenes Fernandez, 53, who was Archbishop Emeritus of Iquique, were expelled from the priesthood following local and Vatican investigations. Defrocking, officially called being “reduced to the lay state”, is the harshest punishment the Church can inflict on a member of the clergy and such action has rarely been taken against bishops.

Archbishop of Washington Resigns over Sexual Abuse Scandal

According to The New Daily, the Archbishop of Washington has become the most senior figure in the Catholic Church to quit in the sexual abuse scandal that has engulfed the Vatican and embroiled Pope Francis. Cardinal Donald Wuerl’s resignation was accepted by the Vatican after months of mounting pressure, following revelations of systematic abuse by priests in the state of Pennsylvania, and a cover-up by bishops. Wuerl was bishop of Pittsburgh from 1988 to 2006. The state’s attorney general, Josh Shapiro, said Wuerl “oversaw and participated in the cover-up”. However, according to ABC News, Pope Francis made it clear that he accepted Cardinal Wuerl’s resignation reluctantly and believed he was not guilty of trying to conceal abuse.

Transport Canada Taking a ‘Fresh Look’ at Issue of Seatbelts on School Buses

According to CBC News, Transport Canada will investigate whether seatbelts are necessary on school buses after a hidden report — recently made public — revealed buses failed the department’s own safety tests. The study, which showed that high-backed, padded seats on school buses did nothing to help children in side-impact and rollover crashes, was marked “internal research report” and not posted on Transport Canada’s website or otherwise made available to the public until CBC asked for it last month. According to City News, Canada doesn’t currently require seatbelts on school buses, but did introduce new guidelines in late June to regulate their use by bus operators who choose to install them. Those new technical requirements say restraints must not compromise existing safety features of the compartmentalised seats specifically designed to protect school children in the event of a crash.

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