Victorian School Mobile Phone ban – Will it work for independent schools?

26 June 2019

The Victorian government has just announced that it will ban students in all Government schools from having phones between first and last bell.

Education minister James Merlino has been quoted saying that the ban will minimise cyber-bullying and distraction.

Independent schools are not required to follow the ban. They may introduce a similar ban (many already have) or other policies or variations on “bans” regarding the use of technology by students.

Let’s be clear: removing phones does not remove the School’s potential liability for harm caused by cyber-bullying. There’s simply no ability to say “it’s not our fault, because we told students not to use their phones and the harm was caused during a ban”. However, any student breaching the “ban” can and should be disciplined.

Last week we conducted our regular education briefing for clients. The topic was Child Safety in the Digital World.

Key takeaways from the session included:

  1. Schools will often be liable for “out of hours” behaviour by students who have been engaged in cyber-bullying and have some obligations to investigate claims; and
  2. Schools equally need to:
    • equip themselves to discipline students for this behaviour by ensuring enrolment agreements actually enable this, and
    • ensure, if they are disciplining students, that they follow their own compliant policies, including a Behaviour Management Policy which complies with the VRQA’s requirements which take effect from 1 July 2019.

Some of our independent school clients with liberal ethos might rightly criticise the ban as paternalistic and potentially hypocritical, unless educators and parents also stop using phones during the day.  They might argue that their duty of care is better discharged by accepting the reality of technology and ensuring that students know how to use it safely and in a way that does not cause harm.

Ultimately, independent schools might adopt a similar ban. If they do, they should remember that banning phones is not a substitute for:

  • Educating students about cyber-safety; and
  • Having policies regarding bullying and acceptable use, which are diligently and consistently enforced.

Lastly, if you are removing phones, ensure that any student who requires it for medical purposes (e.g to monitor their blood sugar app) is able to keep it, and ensure removed phones are kept secure and not accessed by staff, or face potential liability for loss of phones and privacy breaches.

For more information regarding the phone ban or for further advice to ensure your School's policies are compliant, please do not hesitate to contact our Practice Leader and Education expert, Cecelia Irvine-So on 03 9843 2100. Alternatively, you can fill out the enquiry form below.

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