The ACT Education Directorate is examining the implications of the recent setting aside of a principal’s decision to suspend a Year 2 child with disabilities, saying it recognises the important issues it raises.
The principal imposed the one-day suspension in 2019 after a string of violent incidents at the school involving the boy. The Director-General upheld the decision after a review, but the boy’s parents took the matter to ACAT, which handed down its ruling on Christmas Eve.
ACAT said the principal could have take alternative action and had not met all of the criteria for suspending the boy, including not consulting with the parents first. ACAT did not believe that the boy was “persistently and wilfully non-compliant” or was a threat to the good order of the school.
The principal believed the situation was urgent and that the priority was safety.
A Directorate spokesperson said the decision had only been published on 24 December and it would take the necessary time to consider the issues.
”The ACT Government’s Future of Education Strategy includes as a key principle the goal of an inclusive education system,” the spokesperson said.
”The government recognises that pursuing this goal requires cultural and systematic change that will take time.
”As part of delivering its election commitments, the government will be working with students with disabilities and their families on how to take steps towards an education system that includes people with disabilities in ways that suits them.”
Australia Education Union ACT branch secretary Glenn Fowler said teachers backed the current suspension policy, which they had helped create as part of consultation on occupational violence.
He said the union was a strong supporter of transparent suspension because it created the space and time for people to ensure that all students and staff were safe and the appropriate risk controls could be put in place.
”We’re not interested in the punitive elements of suspension,” he said. ”It is an appropriate tool to ensure that everybody at the site is safe.”
Mr Fowler said he was confident that principals would continue to use suspension appropriately.
”I’m confident that principals will do what they always do which is assess the situation and make the decision in the best interests of all their students and all of the staff,” he said.
”It obviously occurred very quickly and the principal would have been under incredible pressure to ensure the environment was safe.”
Mr Fowler said it was important that suspension decisions followed the policy.
”It is a bit of a concern if we have informal suspensions, I’d be worried about that. We need to be transparent and stick to the policies and use suspension for what it’s for, which is to give all parties breathing space, and to ensure appropriate controls are put in place so it doesn’t happen again,” he said.
Mr Fowler said suspensions were a matter of judgment being made by people trying to do the right thing.
”The parents obviously have taken it very seriously and I can understand that at some level, but we’ve got confidence in our people working to the structures we helped to create that really are genuinely the best in the country,” he said.
According to the Directorate, temporarily withdrawing a student from school activities and school grounds and placing them in the care of their parent/carer can assist the school to ensure that measures are in place to meet a student’s needs.
Suspension can restore a safe learning and working environment for the school community, and be followed by a review of safety risks and a support plan for the student to assist a successful return to school.
It also seeks to communicate the significance of a behaviour and its impact, and lead to the underlying reasons for it to be addressed.
The suspension policy can be found on the Directorate’s website.
The ACT Council of Parents and Citizens Associations was approached for comment.