Article: Parents mounting social media ‘hate campaigns’ against Principals: Survey

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Parents mounting social media ‘hate campaigns’ against Principals: Survey

By Sarah Duggan
Published June 9, 2022

Parents are targeting principals and their staff on social media, with reports snowballing ‘hate campaigns’ are adversely affecting school leaders’ workload and wellbeing.

Almost 350 NSW school leaders participated in the survey, with the majority reporting they have to deal with social media misuse from parents.

Almost 90 per cent of principals in the 2021 NSW Secondary Principals’ Council (SPC) survey reported they are forced to deal with social media misuse from parents and community members, including personal attacks and online vitriol targeting staff members. 

SPC president Craig Petersen said rather than make an appointment to work through an issue in person, parents were often jumping on school Facebook pages to unleash their displeasure. 

Whether it be a cancelled excursion, a decision around student discipline or even a change in school uniform policy, Petersen said a comment from one parent could quickly attract more, leading to a situation that could easily get of hand. 

“[Some] jump on the Facebook page and put a post up, attacking or criticising the decision or the person. What we often see is that escalation out, and in some cases, we've seen people who've got no connection at all with the school jumping on,” he tells EducationHQ

“In fact, there's one case that I know of where people from overseas were jumping on, (with) no connection to the school, not the town, not the state, not even the country…”

Under the current complaints handling process, each parent who comments must be contacted and have their problem handled individually. 

“What that does, it makes it almost impossible for the principal to actually deal with it,” Petersen says. 

Workload pressures aside, the online abuse was having a detrimental impact on school leaders’ psychological health, Petersen notes. 

“All teachers and staff members, and certainly principals, identify so strongly with the school that they (can) see an attack upon the school as an attack upon themselves.

“So when you get this – some media describe it as a ‘pile on’ or ‘hate campaign’ – series of really critical, and sometimes quite clearly bullying or harassing, intimidating comments, that affects our wellbeing. 

“It doesn’t just tie up our time in trying to address it, that actually affects … the way they feel about themselves. It creates anxiety and stress, it's upsetting, it's distressing, so all of those negative impacts.” 

“There's actually a Parent Charter, which does address some of these areas. But most parents and a lot of schools wouldn't be aware that the Parent Charter actually exists. 

“It basically says, ‘treat our staff with respect and raise concerns in appropriate manner’, so it’s [essentially] a behaviour code for parents…

“Now, if a parent or a community member physically comes on the school site and harasses, threatens, intimidates or assaults a teacher or a member of staff, we can issue [a letter] which prevents them from coming onto the school site. We don't like doing that. But we can. 

Petersen says poor parental behaviour has worsened throughout the country and across all school sectors during the pandemic, a scene evidenced in The Australian Principal Occupational, Health, Safety and Wellbeing Survey

“People do and say things online that they otherwise might not. Or they put things out there without thinking about the consequences.”  If the principal's not at the peak of their game, it's going to be hard for them to have their staff at the peak of their game. And that cascades down to student outcomes…”