A 17-year-old St Edmund’s College student with a strong record of community service is wondering what his future will hold after last week being suspended for protesting against proposed school changes.
John-Paul Romano says he has been suspended indefinitely for apparent “dangerous” opinion and bringing St Edmund’s College Canberra into disrepute.
Before his suspension, John-Paul was a highly regarded student leader and long-standing member of the Student Representative Council (SRC). He was one of two students selected to represent the school to greet Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II when she visited Australia in 2011.
John-Paul said St Edmund’s College was proposing changes to the crest, school uniform and song.
He said he was fed up with the Executive’s lack of consultation with students and that this was one of the many experiences where they have not listened to people.
As a result of his frustration, he created a Facebook page called St Edmund’s College Canberra Alumni Association and attempted to organise a strike and protest.
He said it was less about the physical action of a student strike and more about “starting a conversation”. This would be an opportunity for students to have their say.
The student’s father, well-known Canberra solicitor Peter Romano, said: “This is not an issue about the school per se. This is an issue about a young person who was trying to have a say and being shut down.
“I think it’s morphed into something that is what it’s not.”
“It’s simply just about having a voice, and how that person having a voice was dealt with. And that’s the issue here.”
A letter from the College advised Mr Romano that his son was suspended for bringing the college into disrepute. However, John-Paul said the Principal told him that he was considered “too dangerous” to be at the school.
St Edmunds College Acting Deputy Principal Darren Leech said the college will not be discussing John-Paul’s personal situation publicly, even to correct misstatements of fact by others.
“Our overriding concern is for the wellbeing of all our students, including the student who has been suspended,” he said.
“I urge the local news media, and individuals commenting online, to remember that the person concerned in this matter is a seventeen-year-old school boy.”
“Our school always permits a respectful and open dialogue and encourages the expression of opinion; that will continue.”
John-Paul said he is suspended until further notice and does not know when he can return to school. Other students have already commenced revision for upcoming exams and his final year 12 exams are quickly approaching.
“Obviously this is my final year of schooling. So I am quite anxious about how this will affect my year 12 studies.”
Peter Romano said that he supports his son one hundred percent, not just about what is taking place but also the motivation behind it.
“I’ve sat down and discussed it and said if you feel strongly about this, this is what you need to do. If you have a view, you need to express it,” said Peter Romano.
“John-Paul is a 17-year-old boy and everyone needs to remember that. And he needs to be commended for what he is doing and speaking out,” Peter said.
John-Paul said: “I’ve been upset with the way this has been handled by the school – the school that I love so much.
“The institution that it is, more so the leadership who has been somewhat supportive in the past, has turned its back on me,” said John-Paul.
Since being suspended last week, John-Paul said that no one from the College or Edmund Rice Education Australia has contacted him or his father to even enquire about his health and well-being.
Both John-Paul and his father were cautious to comment too much on the suspension as this matter is now in the hands of their solicitor Rory Markham at Chamberlain’s Law Firm in an attempt to expedite his immediate return to school.
Let’s not just focus on John-Paul’s schooling, for school is just a small part of his story.
This gentle-spoken man is contemplative with a strong desire to advocate for people who have no voice. He has a passion for food and his city, Canberra, and he is heavily involved as a volunteer in his community.
“The community, not only the St Edmund’s community but the whole community of Canberra and of Australia has given me so much. And I just try to give back as much as I can,” said John-Paul.
“I really encourage people to volunteer,” he said.
“Give back to your community. Because you will find through giving back you will gain a whole lot more.”
Some of his volunteer work includes St John’s Ambulance Senior Cadet, a member of the ACT State Emergency Service and ACT Rural Fire Service, St Christopher’s Cathedral Parish Pastoral Council, UN Youth Australia and founding council member of Senator Zed Seselja’s Youth Advisory Council.
As a Cadet Lance Corporal for the Australian Army Cadets, he is a medical/first aid specialist and instructor.
He is also a committee member of the Inner South Canberra Community Council and Communications Officer for the Forrest Residents Group.
John-Paul said his motivation to volunteer is simply to give back – to give back to the community and to those less fortunate.
“And that comes from my Christian upbringing, where I have learnt about social justice, where I’ve learnt about helping those who are in need. To give a voice to the voiceless,” he said.
“I come from an Italian background. In Italian, the term for [a] lawyer is ‘avvocato’ which means advocate.”
In talking about his future, John-Paul said his calling is to be an advocate for the voiceless and for those in need. He said his grandfather, grandmother and father are lawyers and that he would like to go into law to help people.
“My grandfather and grandmother have always been advocates for those who are in need and those who need a voice. And my father has continued that,” he said.
“And in my future, I would like to be an advocate for people.”
When asked if he ever considered going into politics, John-Paul said: “On occasions, I have thought about it.”
“Whether I go into politics, is something I will think more about in the future.”
Earlier this year he completed a course in Entrepreneurship and Family Business at RMIT University. He is also currently studying online a Bachelor of Commerce/Business Law at Curtin University.
One of his passions is working as a Sous Chef and he is enrolled in the St Edmund’s hospitality program. He hopes to enter a cooking competition.
“I love cooking, it’s a passion of mine,” he said.
He attributes his love for food to his grandfather and other grandmother and his Italian heritage.
When talking about Canberra, you can see his passion for this city.
“This city has so much potential. This city has so much more to give than it currently does,” he said.
“I already think it is the best city in the world but I think we could certainly make it a lot better.”
NOW ON PODCAST: Listen to Doug Dobing discuss the controversial suspension with John-Paul and Peter Romano on 2XX FM 98.3 SubjectACT.
Do you believe a student should be suspended for voicing their opinion? Let us know what you think in the comments below.
Photos: by Doug Dobing; Photo 1: John-Paul Romano looking over Lake Burley Griffin; Photo 2: John-Paul with his father Peter Romano; Photo 3: John-Paul and Peter Romano walking beside the lake. Photo 4: John-Paul thinking about his future.