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Thursday, 26 April 2007

Are your children safe at school?

In Australia recently we have already had a mobile phone incident that caused a great deal of grief for those innocent but did bring to light the fact that bullying is alive and well in our schools. A reality we had all hoped was not but is. Xavier pupils suspended after bullying caught on film Xavier College Reeling Over Fight Videos Xavier College Fight Club Today, it appears we have another and within the same Catholic system. The year 10 boys of St.Bede's were today taken into an assembly spoken to and sent home with a letter that reads as follows: 26th April 2007
Year 10 Social
Dear Parents/Guardians We apologise for this very late notice, but the Year 10 social scheduled for this evening has been cancelled. An incident of an unfortunate nature, which is of great concern to both St.Bede's and Kilbreda, has resulted in this decision. Students of both schools have been briefed on the situation and we encourage parents to discuss this matter with their son. Should you wish to discuss this matter further please contact your son's House Co-ordinator. We ask that all Year 10 students return the attached reply slip to confirm this letter has been seen by parents. Once again we apologise for any inconvenience and thank families for their support. Mark Jones Assistant Principal - Student Welfare and Management The reply slip is added to the bottom of the above letter. ************************************************************************************************* Wow, what a letter to be given by your son when they return home. Could it be any more cryptic? Here I have been running around in circles to purchase a neat suit for my son to wear paying a fortune and with only a few hours notice, told the event is canceled. The brain then shifts into, this must be really serious for the schools to pull the social, best I talk to my son. Now a little context. My son spoke to me on the weekend about the fact that a boy from St Bede's had images sent to his phone, allegedly from a year 10 girl at Kilbreda. The alleged images where of the girl, of her breasts and other parts of her body, naked and allegedly sent from her phone to the others number and handset. My son advised me that he had been shown the images and then walked away, along with my youngest son who was also present and shown the images, not asked they were told to look and they did. Neither of my children believed that it was proper to show them but they also realised that it would not have been an issue, if the girl had not taken and sent the images. We spoke at length about the situation and at the end of our discussions, the boys had great compassion for the young lady as I advised that to do such a thing, indicates that she may well have low self esteem and that in sending the images she was seeking attention. In such a case, I would have thought counseling the young lady of the potential dangers of doing what has been alleged and getting to the cause of her issues and problems would have been advisable. I know if it was my child I would be making sure, I got onto any such issues immediately, to help them, so they do not make such a mistake again. A mistake that puts oneself in a position of potential harm, if the images get into the wrong hands. Now, remember, we are talking here about someone who is alleged to have sent the images, someone who is alleged to have received them and shown mates. We are not talking about a child who has received images and uploaded them to a computer, to their myspace or other social networking account, for the world to see. The child did as many teenage boys would do, shown his mates. He has committed no crime, although obviously he too should be counseled, as in showing them, he has made public knowledge of the existence of these images and the source as I understand it showing up on his handset, which could have ramifications for a young lady, who is obviously already troubled. He could have done far worse, but did not and I feel that he should be given credit for at least restraining himself from making it an open slather on the www. My was interrogated by a staff member at St.Bede's earlier this week as for some reason his name has been brought into the situation. Why? Because he was shown the images and was honest about it. From what I am told, the way he was treated was not in a manner I as an educator would approve of and as a mother am infuriated over. I beg the question here too, why was my younger son, not also questioned as he was with his brother at the time and saw what he saw. Discrimination, YES. It appears and is alleged that the young lady has been pulling names out of the air and blaming everyone but herself. It is alleged that today, students are talking about the boys being the ones at fault, by downloading images of photo bucket and doctoring them and then sending them to the young lads phone - um, but if what I am told is true, her number is attached to the images. The next story is that someone stole her phone and sent the images - did she or her parents report the loss of the phone? How and when did she get it back? What date were the images sent to the young boys phone? Another story, one that has now placed my eldest in fear of even catching the train to school now, is that the young lady has an 18 year old boyfriend and he really wants to TALK to my son and a couple of other boys. So, my son has done nothing other than view images shown, told me about it as he is responsible and after rationale logical discussions at home, he is subjected to the anger of staff, discriminated against (along with other boys), as not all boys viewing the material were hauled into the co-ordinators office. They were somehow exclusively selected, according to what criteria I am not sure. My son, is now being defamed, victimized by staff at the school and other students, blamed for the school social being canceled, placed in fear, that someone will now hurt him (the young ladies boyfriend) and ridiculed by other students from Kilbreda and if what I hear is the truth, his name and the name of others who were shown the images, named by staff at Kilbreda to other students. However these images came to be, however they came to be on the young lads handset, in fact the images themselves now have little relevance to me. What is of relevance and of great concern is that the schools collectively have managed to create problems for many students, all as a result of a young lady allegedly photographing herself naked and sending the images. St.Bede's have sent home a letter, asking the boys to discuss the situation with their parents. Well apart from those currently victimised by the very staff, I have entrusted to look after my son in their charge throughout his education, the only thing anyone else can talk to their parents about, is whatever nonsense they have heard at school, after school on their way home, walking, on the bus, on the train. Stories that I am sure by tomorrow will have morphed into something that will have taken on a life of there own, as is always the case, when the truth is concealed. The actions of both schools, in my opinion, is shortsighted and narrow minded and that is being kind. The truth is that there actions have already caused greater harm, than the actual images. Both schools have now allowed for other students in their charge, to suffer harm and acted in a way that is causing detriment to many others, including my son. If what I am told is the truth and I believe it is after speaking to one of the school staff this afternoon, then there are many issues here and ones that I am not going to allow be swept under the carpet. What has happened is not 'unfortunate', it is tragic and through trying to conceal the situation has already spiraled out of control. and is impacting on many who are innocent. Put simply this is wrong and I now have to wonder about the safety of my children in the hands of the school and system I have entrusted them too, just as the parents of children at Xavier College. After all I have been researching and all those I have been collaborating with, I am wondering if we should not go back a step and consider the very nature and culture of the establishments we entrust learners too. Are they not there to protect all. Do children throw away their rights under the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Act of Australia, when they walk onto the grounds of these establishments, Acts established to protect all from 'discrimination'? Are administrators and co-coordinators now qualified to place students under pressure, interrogating them without notifying their parents? Are educational institutions more concerned about their reputations than the welfare of ALL of their students, not just some? How can such institutions, believe that cover ups are better than the truth? Is not the truth and the telling of the truth an element or part of the Catholic ethos or have I read a different version of the bible and Human Rights and Discrimination Legislation in Australia to those in charge? How do we break this culture, one that as is evidenced by the Xavier incident where many were caused harm by the schools constant denial of what had happened, only to have to admit it was true when the media brought it to light. How do we ever get inside these institutions to help them and their charges to understand the potential dangers not just of the Internet but of mobile phones. How teachers, students and parents protect themselves or each other in an age of technology, that is going to advance more rapidly than ever, with the advent of web 2.0 and web 3.0 and beyond technologies, if cases that should trigger alarm bells for the absolute critical need for such education, such learning is blocked by administrators, who wish to conceal the truth. This situation, should have been seen as one of learning. One where there is an acknowledgment that the misuse of technology can cause harm and in this case to many. In so doing an acknowledgment that the institutions charges require information and education. Instead, we see punishment, blame, victimization, fear, interrogation and cover up - a very sad indictment indeed. I have no doubt that if anyone from either school, stumbles across this post, that both of my children will suffer at the hands of those I entrust them into each day. I have been given nothing else to indicate that this will not be the case. Why? When speaking with the coordinator (as the letter advises), I was told that they were not aware of Zane being questioned, that they did not know the whole story and were more intent on telling me that my son who they know has suffered from chronic fatigue for years, was in fact fine (another teacher I have now been told by my son has told him, he does not suffer the condition, something I have been fighting for the school staff to understand for years, but still do not) and they were worried about his learning in a few subjects. I assume that teachers now have medical degrees Why am I told to contact the coordinator for further information when they had no answers to any of my questions? This situation with limited technological involvement highlights many problems, provides many questions but also I hope provides the impetus for institutions to begin addressing bullying by staff or students, awareness and safe use of all technology, so that we can limit the dangers and the negative impact and harm that can be caused to so many. I will keep you posted. If anyone has had similar experiences, please speak up. The time has come when parents and those of us responsible and aware in our fields spoke up and help to protect our children and other children from similar fates. As a small addition to my comments after watching the video of 'Are Schools Killing Creativity', after reflecting on this situation, I can only say, that 'Schools are not only killing creativity, they are killing the will to learn or trust'.

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