Govt’s extreme move on school discipline
"THEY'VE lined up a howitzer and lobbed a nine-inch shell at something that might need a little bit of a swat".
One of the region's top lawyers has delivered a scathing verdict on proposed education law changes that will see Warwick kids charged with crimes, suspended or expelled from school.
Downs and South-West Law Association president Darren Lewis said young people would be dealt a devastating blow under amendments to the Education and Other Legislation Amendment Bill.
Schools can already suspend students charged with offences, but they have to rely on the honesty of family and friends in bringing the alleged crimes to light.
The proposed amendments will give CEOs the power to gather information about charges and convictions from the police.
Teachers have backed the changes.
Legal, school and government bodies will have their say on the changes during the Education and Innovation Committee sitting today.
"My concern is that it strikes at the heart of a fundamental principle of justice in a country such as Australia - that no man ought to be a judge in his own cause," said Mr Lewis, whose role with the association covers Warwick.
"It needs to be understood that the children who are perhaps suspected of some wrongdoing are just as much a part of the school community as any other child.
"Certainly the principal has to act in a way that is the place of a parent - that is he has to act protectively.
"But ... there might be other means to protect children rather than completely shutting them out."
Mr Lewis said kicking children out of school was the first step along a very rocky path.
"The kid stays at home where the parents perhaps have limited ability or means to look after the kid and the kid gets into more mischief - idle hands tend to be the devil's workshop," he said.
Mr Lewis urged the government to tighten the amendment so other students and their teachers were protected but kids on criminal charges received a fair go.
"I'm not saying the legislation needs to be thrown out," he said.
"Certainly there are probably some children who the school community needs to be protected from, but it needs to be tightened in my humble view," he said.
"It (the amendments) should be significantly modified in a way that really focuses on the mischief that is to be controlled.
"Now, what the principal or chief executive needs to do is make a proper assessment of whether the student in question posed an unacceptable risk to the safety or wellbeing to students or to staff, or will adversely affect the peace, welfare and good government of the school community as a whole.
"At the moment it's a blanket approach."
Queensland Secondary Principals' Association president Andrew Pierpoint defended the move, saying it was aimed at protecting other students and teachers.
Mr Pierpoint said the amendment would make it easier for principals to get background information.
He said schools had to put safety first.
"... the principal is the responsible officer, so he or she needs to know what he or she has before him or her in the school. So if there is a student with a criminal history or violent history, then it behoves the principal to know that information so that he or she can put programs and structures in place to protect everybody including the kid who's got it," he said.
"We recognise that there could be some infringements of civil liberties around this."
Mr Pierpoint said banned students would be supported outside the school gates.
"It's very easy to say, 'Chuck him out, chuck him out', but there needs to be some processes put in place, so we support him so he doesn't do that again - in working with the Queensland Police Service or what ever organisations there are - but you need to take that strong action on behalf of the kids and the staff in the school, which is often forgotten about," he said.
Acting Education Minister Ian Walker said the government's priority was the safety of all students.
"These amendments only apply to students charged with or convicted of serious criminal offences like rape, murder and attempted murder," Mr Walker said.
"This information will enable principals to put measures in place to ensure their school is a safe place for all students."
Mr Walker said only the director-general of Education Queensland, Dr Jim Watterston, could obtain the criminal history.
He said it did not apply to student enrolment decisions.
"We make no apologies for doing all we can to keep Queensland students safe from harm," he said.
The Education and Innovation Committee will report back to the Legislative Assembly on October 20.
AT THE MOMENT
Schools can suspend students charged with serious offences or if it is in the school's best interest for the student not to be at school while a charge is pending
WHAT THE CHANGES MEAN
Police MUST give principals information about a student's charges if asked.
Principals can get this information when deciding to expel or suspend a student.
While suspended, a student cannot attend another school.
WHAT THEY SAID
Lawyers say the changes will hurt civil liberties and the presumption of innocence.
Teachers say the changes will help protect other students and school employees.