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Expulsion: the decision no school wants to make

Posted on 1 September 2017
Expulsion: the decision no school wants to make

Everyone agrees on one thing expelling a student is always complex. The story of 15-year-old Jamie, who was expelled from his private school after buying 100 tabs of LSD, has unleashed debate about how schools respond to students involved with drugs.

The teenager's former school has acted "entirely appropriately", according to Independent Schools Victoria chief executive Michelle Green. "The incident reported in The Age involved criminal conduct that put students at real risk of physical and psychological harm, leading to a student being admitted to hospital after an overdose," she said.

Ms Green said most schools had codes of conduct that detailed acceptable and unacceptable behaviour, and the consequences of breaking these rules. "Students and their parents accept theses policies when they enrol."

Schools are not immune from the drug issues in our society. New figures from the Crime Statistics Agency show 258 drug offences were recorded at Victorian state and private schools, during school hours, over the past three years.

Expulsion for drug use was "prevalent", according to a recent report by Victoria's Ombudsman.

While Jamie (not his real name) acknowledged he deserved to be expelled, he did not like the way his school went about it. He said he was expelled before he had a chance to sit down with the principal and tell his side of the story.

He also spoke of the embarrassment of being arrested by police on school grounds and said his parents should have been informed the school was investigating him.

Jamie, who faced 22 criminal charges including drug trafficking, said on Thursday his sentence had been reduced on appeal from 18 months' probation to a good behaviour bond and no conviction.

Vernita Zigouras, a spokeswoman for the Australia and New Zealand Education Law Association and a former state school principal, said schools must follow natural justice processes. "The student needs to know what he has been accused of, and then given an opportunity to reply," she said.

Schools should investigate the allegations, and suspend the student while this takes place, she said.

In state schools, principals must follow a lengthy process before expelling a student. This includes conducting a preliminary investigation into the student's alleged behaviour, seeking support from the Education Department and organising a behaviour review conference with the student. They must then take into account their age and social circumstances.

Readers overwhelmingly supported the decision of Jamie's school. "He absolutely should have been expelled. You do bad things, you suffer the consequences, it's not rocket science," one reader wrote.

Another said: "The school has a perfect right to protect their students from illegal drug dealing."

Beth Blackwood, chief executive of the Association of Heads of Independent Schools of Australia, said schools had to balance competing interests, including the wellbeing of the student at the centre of the controversy and other students, and the expectations of the school and broader community.

She said that in ideal circumstances, there would be a discussion between the school, the student and their parents before the expulsion.



From: Age, Melbourne  by Henrietta Cook
25 Aug 2017

Tags: wellbeing

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