Principal resigns ‘for his students’ safety’

Principal resigns ‘for his students’ safety’

A Victorian high school principal has resigned in fear for his students after his decision to expel a student who made threats with a knife was overturned.

The principal’s resignation, which was reported by the Herald Sun today, comes amid wider concerns about student safety and disciplinary decisions by the Victorian Education Department.

Victorian Association of State School Principals (VASSP) president, Sue Bell, told 3AW Breakfast radio that it is “incredibly frustrating” for principals when their decisions to expel students are overturned.

“The principal is the professional at the school who understands what has happened before, as well as the consequences of keeping that child in the school and the consequences of expelling them,” Bell said.

“So not to be able to have a voice in the appeals process is incredibly difficult.”

If a student’s appeal is rejected, the principal is tasked with placing that student in the nearest local school to where they live.

Bell said the Victorian Education Minister’s review into the incident will “hopefully” produce a finding that says principals should have legal redress when their decisions to expel students are overturned.

“At the moment, principals don’t have this. They just take the child back into the school and find ways to make it work both for them and the victim.”

Expulsion appeal panels are currently made up of impartial representatives who make a recommendation to the Secretary of the Department, or their delegate.

It’s up to the parent to decide whether they want to appeal the decision based on different grounds that are available to them.

As part of the expulsion process, in the meeting prior to the expulsion, parents are given the opportunity to present their side of the story and are given all of the information about the appeals process.


Potential legal ramifications

Nathan Croot, senior associate at Emil Ford Lawyers, said the department has a duty to provide a safe working environment for principals and address potential threats when they are made.

He added that in a scenario where the principal is harmed by the student he tried to expel, there could be legal ramifications for the Department.

“Hypothetically, if this principal ends up getting harmed by the student, there would be workers comp issues, but if he sued the Department or made a complaint under WH&S legislation, the department would have to prove that it took all reasonable precautions to prevent the incident,” Croot told The Educator.

“I would imagine that decision would be reviewed to see if it was reasonable or whether they took any other steps in relation to the threat, so it could very well be that the student has to stay, but the precautions need to be put in place.”

Croot said such measures could involve monitoring and/or counselling the student who made the threat.

“It really depends on what else the Department does. If they overturned the principal’s decision to expel the student and ignored the threat entirely, it would be very hard to see that they’d taken all of the precautions,” Croot said.

A spokesperson for the Victorian Education Department told The Educator that for privacy reasons, it could not comment on matters relating to individual employees.

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