How to handle an aggressive parent

How to handle an aggressive parent
Aggressive parents are a major disruption and can even be a danger to others but dealing with them can be problematic for school principals – here, a leading education lawyer offers her advice on the difficult situation.

“Firstly, don’t hit back – either in words or in actions,” says Jacquie Seemann, a partner with Thomson Geer. “Very often the instinct is to fight fire with fire, and that would be a really bad idea.”

If school leaders can’t stop the unacceptable behaviour immediately, Seemann says they should try to remove themselves from the situation and create an opportunity to have a civil discussion in a calm and safe environment.

“Sometimes, the best response at the time is no response at all other than to say; ‘Your behaviour is unacceptable, I’m not cooperating with this, and I will be getting back to you.’”

If a school is struggling to remove an aggressive parent from the property, there is also the option of invoking the Inclosed Lands Protection Act (NSW) which stipulates that a school can require somebody to leave if they’re conducting themselves “in such a manner as would be regarded by reasonable persons as being, in all the circumstances, offensive.”

If the parent’s behaviour warrants more long-term action, there are a number of legal options open to schools.

“Some parent behaviour gets so bad that it may be an implication that the parent is causing a risk to the safety of a child – whether their own or someone else’s – and that might trigger a reporting obligation,” says Seemann.

Schools could also potentially assist a person (eg. principal, teacher or parent) to file for an Apprehended Violence Order (AVO) if a parent’s behaviour became too aggressive.

“Let’s say a parent is threatening the principal, the principal could seek an AVO which would say the person they fear can’t be within a kilometre of the principal, including school grounds.”

While those options are available to both private and public schools, Seemann says private schools have even more freedom to handle unacceptable behaviour as they’re able to write their own enrolment agreements.

“If you’re a private school, you’ve got the option of banning the parent or ultimately even expelling the child based on a written enrolment contract – that’s the most fundamental power that a private school has that a state school doesn’t have.”

Seemann says private schools can include a clear set of expectations for parents in their enrolment agreements – if those expectations are breached, the relationship can be terminated.

“Like any kind of disciplinary or management process, it’s about saying; ‘We told you what we expected, you didn’t do what we expected, you’ve broken the rules so how are we doing to deal with that?’”