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Byron Shire
March 2, 2021

Dept whitewashes Ballina school bullying allegations

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Chris Dobney

The NSW Dept of Education and Training (DEET) has declined to respond to specific allegations of ongoing bullying at Ballina High School raised by a concerned parent after a threatening incident at the school a fortnight ago.

Two days after a boy pulled a knife at the school and reportedly held a senior teacher hostage, the mother of a girl who attends Ballina High went public in the local media about her concerns, saying his actions were motivated by ongoing bullying.

‘He is a very quiet boy but he had had enough,’ she told Echonetdaily this week.

‘He wanted to kill the boy who had been bullying him. What he said to [my daughter] was that if he couldn’t kill the bully, he would kill himself.

‘Before it happened he was giving stuff away and paying out debts to kids – and he told them what he was going to do.’

She said her daughter called her in distress over what the boy had said and that she had in turn called the principal to alert him. She said to this day she has not received a return phone call.

‘He has no idea of the guilt that my daughter carries because she knew something might have been going to happen,’ she told us.

Echonetdaily last week sent a series of questions to the DEET spokesperson. The questions were responded to in only the most general of terms and some were not responded to at all.

The department did not answer whether it was mounting an investigation into the knife incident, when it would be reporting and whether its report would be made public. Nor did it answer whether there was any investigation into the allegations of bullying.

Its spokesperson did say that ‘as a matter of course victims are offered support and disciplinary action is taken as necessary, separately to any police action’.

It also said that after the knife incident, ‘which finished at 10.15am, counselling was offered to all students by 11.30am the same day; further counselling was offered to a particular group the following day, and their parents were contacted the next day’.

The mother says her daughter told her ‘there was a meeting after the incident in relation to the boy where the children were told not to tell anyone. [My daughter] said that she did not recall being offered any counselling at that meeting.’

She adds that ‘the lockdown procedure [during the incident] according to numerous kids who experienced it was bullshit… no one followed through on what they were meant to do. Some teachers said to ignore it, that it was just a drill.’

The department countered that ‘the lockdown process was fully implemented as it applies to the school, which is nonetheless always open to suggestions for improvement’.

The spokesperson said there was no connection to an attack on the woman’s own daughter and two of her friends by three older girls several months earlier, admitting that it was an act of violence but denying it contained aspects of bullying.

But the mother says that the girls had been threatened earlier in the day, and that after what she described as ‘an ambush’ that was recorded on a mobile phone, her daughter was subjected to ongoing cyber bullying in the form of threatening phone messages.

‘I told the principal about her fears as the perpetrators were still leaving her threatening phone calls etc in the time they were [suspended]. The principal said that he wasn’t sure what he could do about it when it was outside school time.’

The mother said that when she asked about the school’s bullying policy in her meeting with the principal she was referred to the Ballina High website.

For the record, the Ballina High school bullying policy as outlined on its website is this few lines of text:

‘We work hard to prevent bullying in our school and we recognise that the best outcomes are achieved by school communities, parents, students and teachers, working together to help prevent and to respond to bullying.

‘Our Anti-bullying Plan includes protection, prevention, early intervention and response strategies for student bullying. Any student who experiences bullying and any person who witnesses bullying should report it to a teacher or the school principal.’

But the parent says bullying at Ballina High is rarely reported because students do not trust the teachers to do anything about it.

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