Deeny Kohler-Caporale worked as a special education teacher in Warwick for decades and says there needs to be an overhaul of the way schools handle bullying.
Deeny Kohler-Caporale worked as a special education teacher in Warwick for decades and says there needs to be an overhaul of the way schools handle bullying. Marian Faa

Former teacher's vision for new approach to bullying crisis

CALLS to overhaul a school discipline system that is "shot to pieces" have emerged from past teachers as parents cry out for a solution to the bullying "epidemic" that is hurting their kids.

Former Warwick teacher Deeny Kohler-Caporale said the entire education system needed to focus on a bullying solution that empowered students instead of perpetuating victims.

Over decades of teaching at multiple schools in Warwick, Ms Kohler-Caporale said the most frustrating thing she experienced was watching student conflicts passed up the chain.

"Teachers are able to see when bullying happens in the classroom but we're not geared for treating that type of thing," she said.

"When a kid misbehaves you send that kid to the principal but the principal is very busy and often is not aware of the ins and outs of the problem.

"The very fact you sent the kid out of the place where the problems stems means the conflict is not resolved then and there."

 

HURTING: A Warwick State High School student is one of many who report experiencing bullying at the state school.
HURTING: A Warwick State High School student is one of many who report experiencing bullying at the state school. Marian Faa

Ms Kohler-Caporale said reports of bullying could pass through multiple agencies and staff members before anything happened and the responsibility for finding a solution was taken from students.

"I feel one needs to be able to give the victim and the bully the time to sort out their disagreements," she said.

"For some reason we don't think that kids are able to do that."

By empowering students, Ms Kohler-Caporale said victim and perpetrator relationships could be broken down.

Her comments come after a wave of stories from parents, students and past students of schools around the region that detailed a culture of bullying and violence that was "out of control".

One former Warwick student, who left the town last year to escape the relentless bullying he faced, said his mental health suffered as a result.

"You won't really feel like going to school, you will fall behind in all your work, you will feel like 'why does everyone hate me, why do I get picked on?'" he said.

"But it does make you sort of look at the big picture that something needs to be done."

 

Deeny Kohler-Caporale wants a focus on solutions to the problem of bullying.
Deeny Kohler-Caporale wants a focus on solutions to the problem of bullying. Marian Faa

Parents have also complained, with one mother saying she worried the problem was too big to be resolved.

"Last year my son got his jumper cut from another student with scissors and nothing got done about it," she said.

"Now he is in (youth mental health agency) headspace and it helps but still at the end of the day they are only one group of people and they can't be expected to look after a whole school."

Responding to the reports, teachers from Warwick Stat High School said they were committed to providing the best education for all students.

A letter from the Queensland Teachers Union on behalf of teachers highlighted activities that were taken to promote positive behaviour.

"WSHS teachers and staff have deep roots in this community and are committed to its growth and well-being," the letter said.

But Ms Kohler-Caporale said teachers needed to be empowered instead of hamstrung by the system.

"Teachers, especially ones who have been in classroom for a long time, can see a lot of the stuff happening but they don't have the power or right to do anything," she said.

"For example you can't just keep someone in for detention without the permission of the principal or the parents.

"There is so much else that goes on in your normal day as a teacher that often there is no time to deal with that type of thing and so it is passed on to someone else," she said.

Ms Kohler-Caporale said with better systems in place, teachers would be able to help students go through conflict-resolution processes and feel empowered.

"The teacher, the police - no one else can find that solution for them," she said.

"They should go into a private area and it does not matter how long it takes, they spend however long they need to find a solution and then the outcome is that they both walk away feeling empowered."

 

REMOVED: A Warwick mother has decided home schooling is the only option to protect her younger children from a relentless torrent of bullying.
REMOVED: A Warwick mother has decided home schooling is the only option to protect her younger children from a relentless torrent of bullying. Marian Faa

Former WSHS teacher and student Alexander Marstella agreed helping students develop their own strategies and solutions was a good step.

Mr Marstella said his teaching experience over six months at WSHS was positive.

Since moving to a school in North Queensland, Mr Marstella has experienced a range of different responses to behavioural issues among students who experienced trauma.

He said having clear systems and responses to bullying was important.

"When the school has good systems the teachers won't feel stressed or worried about any action they take," he said.

"If those stems are not in place or clear there is more pressure on the teacher for not knowing when and how to intervene."

A spokesman from the Queensland Department of Education said WHSH's Responsible Behaviour Plan was reviewed this year.

"These plans are developed in consultation with school communities and outlines clear standards of behaviour," the spokesman said.



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