Education amendments significantly alter relationship between parents and teaching staff

The Education and Training Reform Act 2006 (Vic) has been amended to grant powers to Principals and other authorised officers to ban disruptive or threatening parents from school grounds – immediately.

The new laws significantly alter the power relationships between parents and teachers, giving teachers greater protection from threats.

The Education and Training Reform Amendment (Protection of School Communities) Act 2021 (Vic) (‘the Protection Act’) was passed into law by the Victorian Parliament on 28 June. Amendments made by the Protection Act support schools and members of school communities facing harmful, threatening or abusive behaviour which does not meet the level of threat required for an intervention order, but which is nevertheless damaging and dangerous.

Victorian Minister for Education James Merlino said “No one should be threatened or intimidated at work or at school“.

Who can ban people from a school?

The new laws empower ‘authorised persons’ to prohibit a person from entering or remaining on any school-related premises.

At a Catholic or independent school, the Principal and the proprietor of the school are authorised persons who can ban adults from school premises.

Who can be banned from a school?

An authorised person (the Principal or proprietor) can exclude anyone from school premises, except:

  • People under 18 years of age;
  • A staff member at the school; or
  • A student at the school.

This means schools have the power to exclude a threatening parent. This power extends to school related places, such as swimming carnivals or other similar events outside ordinary school premises.

An adult person can also be prohibited from being on school premises, or approaching, telephoning, or otherwise contacting specific staff members, or from using a communication platform controlled by the school.

When can an authorised person make a Safety Order?

In addition to immediate orders, the new laws empower authorised persons to make ongoing Safety Orders. An authorised person can make a Safety Order about a person only if they are satisfied there are reasonable grounds to believe the person:

  1. poses an unacceptable and imminent risk of harm to another person on school premises or a member of the school community at any school related place;
  2. poses an unacceptable and imminent risk of causing significant disruption to the relevant school or activities carried on by the relevant school;
  3. poses an unacceptable and imminent risk of interfering with the wellbeing, safety or educational opportunities of students enrolled at the relevant school;
  4. has behaved in a disorderly, offensive, abusive, intimidating or threatening manner to a member of the school community, or at a place where school related activities are taking place; or
  5. has engaged in vexatious communications relating to a staff member.

There are additional necessary considerations. An authorised person making a Safety Order needs to consider if the Safety order will address the risk of harm, disruption or interference. An authorised person must also consider any vulnerability or disability of the person subject to the order, the impact of the order on any student’s right to access education and the safety and wellbeing of any child involved.

The circumstances in which a Safety Order may be made are broad.

The Protection Act expands protections afforded to school staff by capturing a wide spectrum of harmful conduct. The proposed Protection Act defines ‘harm’ broadly. ‘Harm’ means harm of any kind, including physical or mental harm.

The threshold of harmful conduct required for a Safety Order is far lower than the threshold required for Personal Safety Intervention Orders (explained Victorian Treasurer Mr Pallas in the second reading speech).

Immediate Safety Orders can only be in place for 14 days. This gives schools time to implement a longer lasting Safety Order, which would have additional requirements.

Your Parent Code of Conduct and other obligations

Schools should consider any required amendments to their policies and procedures. Particularly, the internal and external review processes proposed by the Protection Act may vary procedures set out in the Grievance Policy or Parent Code of Conduct of the school.

Parent Codes of Conduct, and other tools like Communication Plans, still have a role to assist schools in dealing with serial offenders or keyboard warriors whose bad behaviour may fall short of meeting the new safety order rules. Safety Orders are also an additional weapon in the armoury of schools which use a Parent Code of Conduct, enabling the school to build in a clear escalation to a Safety Order in the event of continued breaches of the Parent Code of Conduct.

Schools will also have to continue to navigate the complicated interplay between intervention orders and family court orders, which might necessitate the school providing ongoing information and access to a parent even where an intervention order exists.

Lastly, schools must always prioritise the safety of students and staff, and still call the police in the event of any immediate threat.

How we can help

If you have any queries about these proposed amendments or your Parent Code of Conduct, our education team can assist and has deep expertise and experience in education, including child safety, regulation, not for profit compliance, governance, enrolments and constitutions. For more information, please do not hesitate to contact us.