Brindabella Christian College is under ongoing investigation by Access Canberra Fair Trading over its enrolment policy, including a review of the terms that allows them to exclude students whose parents are in dispute with the school.
Region Media understands that Brindabella is currently facing complaints from several families. Concerns have been raised previously around three clauses in the enrolment policy that say where a parent has disparaged the school, the school has the right to exclude their child.
The consumer law approach is a new one for frustrated former parents who have struggled to gain traction with their complaints due to Brindabella’s unique governance structure. Unlike other religious schools in the ACT, Brindabella is operated by a small company board, not a parent collective or a church.
The school is believed to be defending the Fair Trading matter vigorously and was approached for comment regarding the investigation.
The enrolment contracts were identified as a serious problem by the Human Rights Commission, which found in January that the school had breached four fundamental child safety principles adopted across Australia after the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.
The policy has also caused concern within the ACT Education Directorate. In 2019, Education Minister Yvette Berry was briefed by the government solicitor on the matter and advised that the clauses were in breach of the ACT Education Act 2004.
Documents prepared for the Minister for a recent Legislative Assembly Estimates hearing indicate that in January, Ms Berry requested Federal Education Minister Alan Tudge ensure that the school complied with its obligations under federal law.
Brindabella was also investigated by Children’s Education and Care Assurance (CECA) in 2019 concerning allegations that a staff member at the Charnwood early learning centre had threatened a child and behaved inappropriately.
The regulator required the school to appoint a person with the requisite knowledge, understanding and capability to operate an early childhood service. An internal review confirmed CECA’s decision and the conditions, and Brindabella has two weeks from this Saturday (17 April) to comply.
The school has also filed no financial reports or information statements with the Australian Charities and Not for Profits Commission since 2019 and is now red-flagged on the ACNC site for non-compliance.
The ACNC has imposed a 30 June deadline for the filing of two years’ worth of reports. The school risks losing its charity status if judged to be a “double defaulter” and could also be fined.
The ACNC can apply administrative penalties if a charity “makes false or misleading statements or fails to submit documents on time”.
“We may remit all or part of any penalties that apply, in line our regulatory approach,” according to the ACNC site.
All registered charities have obligations to submit an annual information statement, due within six months of the end of the charity’s reporting period via the ACNC Charity Portal. The penalties for a charity with revenue over $1 million for failing to provide information for two years range from $1050 to a maximum of $5250.
In December 2020, Region Media was shown an email sent to the Education Directorate’s schools assurance section listing several significant allegations regarding its governance and financial management. The email was sent from a private address but appeared to be from a staff member.
The writer requests assistance from the Directorate and makes a number of very serious, although not detailed, allegations around accurate compliance reporting, excessive legal fees, bullying of administrative staff, interference in budget processes and a lack of competitive rigour around procurement.
In recent times the College has used bus advertising to apparently reference media coverage of various mismanagement allegations.
“Through Drought, Fire, Hail Storms, Covid 19 and Fake News, BCC BLITZES the educational landscape in 2020!”, the bus advertisements read, followed by “12 per cent of BCC Year 12’s scored an ATAR over 99! 50 per cent of BCC Year 12’s scored an ATAR over 90!” The image uses a range of emoticons to illustrate the external challenges Brindabella believes it is facing.