When The Gap State High School cracked down on its uniform policy last year, giving detention to students for having the wrong-sized heels on their shoes, it hit the headlines. Then the flood of abuse began.
“Abusive phone calls to the office, online abuse through social media and emails, and an attack on the school where someone decided to come in and scrawl on the school buildings… it was a bizarre and absolutely completely over-the-top reaction,” Queensland Teachers’ Union president Kevin Bates tells Mamamia.
The school’s principal, Anne McLauchlan, has revealed that on two occasions, parents had to be told to leave the school grounds because of their hostility.
She’s now warning parents that “derogatory” social media posts about staff will be reported to the Department of Education.
This is far from an isolated incident. Several years ago there was a similar response to a news story about a school on the Sunshine Coast banning cartwheels.
“We actually had principals and teachers receiving death threats, because they banned students doing cartwheels because they’d had a number of students do themselves significant injuries,” Bates remembers.
He says the behaviour schools are seeing has “no logical connection” to the issues.
“Suddenly it becomes the sort of thing that results in tantrums, swearing, physical abuse.”
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Bates explains that in Queensland, there are harsh penalties for people who assault teachers – jail terms of up to 14 years. But schools are reluctant to charge parents.
“Schools are places where relationships are absolutely critical. Going around and charging people with assault and having them jailed is not the best way to build relationships with the community.”
There’s no question that this type of bullying by parents is becoming more common. Bates has been working in education for 35 years, and says he’s seen a “dramatic change” in that time.
“When I first became an organiser back in 1994, I would have rarely dealt with these sorts of issues,” he says. “What we’re actually seeing here is a breakdown in what are absolutely standard and expected norms of behaviour.
“It’s something that’s reached a crescendo at this point in time and needs to be dealt with.”
Bates says teachers and principals have already left the workforce over these kinds of incidents.
“There is a very clear expectation by people that they will be safe in their workplace. When that’s jeopardised, it’s clearly an issue that’s going to impact quite severely.”
For teachers, the threat of violence is nothing new. They’ve had to deal with students lashing out in the classroom.