New Victoria Bill to Protect Schools from Harmful Parent Behaviour
Tuesday 11 May 2021 @ 9.50 a.m. | Legal Research
On 4 May 2021, the Education and Training Reform Amendment (Protection of School Communities) Bill 2021 (Vic) (‘the Bill’) was introduced in the Victorian Legislative Assembly by Minister for Education James Merlino (‘the Minister’).
According to a media release from 4 May 2021, the new proposed legislation aims to improve school safety by “giving Victorian schools the power to ban aggressive and violent parents from entering school grounds, to protect students and staff”.
Background of the Bill
The Bill arose as a result of a recommendation from the Protective Schools Ministerial Taskforce ('the Taskforce'), which was established by the Minister in 2018. The Taskforce recommended legislative changes to the Minister in order to address threatening or aggressive conduct towards staff. In considering this, the Minister noted in his second reading speech that existing legislation to deal with violent and aggressive people in school communities was inadequate, and only coverred limited behaviour. He commented that it did not provide satisfactory protections for the people involved.
The Minister acknowledged that while the majority of parents and adults involved in school communities kept respectful relationships with the school, there is a minority who display “unacceptable, aggressive or violent” behaviour. The Minister stated that due to the nature of a school environment, negative interactions and incidents with aggressive individuals can be repetitive and ongoing, as a result of the frequency of contact and the length of relationships between parents, students, and staff in schools.
This Bill seeks to amend the Education and Training Reform Act 2006 (Vic) to provide for a legislated scheme to deal with this issue, with an aim of protecting staff and students from experiencing “harmful, abusive, threatening or disruptive behaviour on school grounds or other places where school activities occur”.
Proposed School Community Safety Order Scheme
The Bill seeks to introduce a system, through which a School Community Safety Order (‘an Order’) could be issued to adults who have exhibited certain behaviour, or who pose an unacceptable risk to the school community. If the Bill is passed, an Order can be issued if an authorised person has reasonable grounds to believe that the person:
- poses an unacceptable risk of harm;
- poses an unacceptable risk of serious disruption to the operation of the school;
- poses an unacceptable risk of interfering with the wellbeing, safety or education of students;
- has behaved in a manner that is disorderly, offensive, abusive, intimidating or threatening to a member of the school community; or
- has engaged in vexatious communications in relation to a staff member.
An Order would prohibit a person from:
- being within 25 metres of the school premises or any premises where school activities occur;
- contacting staff members in person, by telephone, or by message;
- using school-controlled communication platforms; and
- engaging in the same behaviour which lead to the issue of an Order.
The Bill also seeks to introduce an Immediate School Community Safety Order ('a Safety Order'). In his second reading speech, the Minister stated that the aim of a Safety Order would be issued to allow schools to:
“take swift and immediate action to remove a person from school grounds or places where school activities are taking place ... [where a person] is threatening harm towards a teacher, and where there may not be adequate time for the school to undertake the show cause and procedural fairness procedures required before an Order is issued”.
The proposed scheme would also provide for a number of ways in order to ensure procedural fairness, if issued with an order:
- An authorised person would consider whether issuing an Order is the least restrictive means available to reduce the likelihood of the harm occurring
- Any person issued with an Order would have the right to make submissions before the order is issued
- A robust and independent internal and external review processes would also be established to support the scheme
If passed, the Bill also requires that in the event that a parent is issued with an Order, the school would have to establish other means in which the parent could remain informed about and participate in their child's education.
According to the Minister's second reading speech, the Bill aims to ensure that the necessary powers and protections for staff in schools would be in place. He concluded his second reading speech by stating:
“Protecting school staff and preventing and deterring violent and aggressive behaviours from adult members of the school community is essential to maintaining schools as positive, safe and inclusive places of work and learning for everyone.”
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Education and Training Reform Amendment (Protection of School Communities) Bill 2021 (Vic), second reading speech and explanatory materials available from TimeBase's LawOne service.