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Inadequate record-keeping and unreasonable decisions by school board: Student discipline

Legislation:
Ombudsmen Act 1975
Legislation display text:
Ombudsmen Act 1975, Education and Training Act 2020
Ombudsman:
Peter Boshier
Case number(s):
533782; 542721,
542767 and 542864
Issue date:
Format:
PDF,
Word
Language:
English

Background

Investigation A (ref: 533782) concerned the decision of Bethlehem College School Board (the Board) to exclude[1] a student on the basis of ‘gross misconduct’ following the decision of the principal to suspend the student due to ‘continual disobedience’. The primary issues of concern included disobedience/disrespect, and the student’s conduct towards other students. The student had been previously disciplined for cannabis use and vaping, but this was not a significant factor in the exclusion decision.

During investigation A, the Ombudsman received other complaints about the Board’s decisions to exclude/expel[2] a group of students. The Ombudsman deferred investigating these complaints until investigation A was finalised.

Investigation B (refs: 542721, 542767 and 542864) concerned the decision of the Board to expel a group of students from Bethlehem College on the basis of ‘gross misconduct’. This centred on incidents involving truancy and alcohol, amongst other matters.

Outcome

In both investigations, the Ombudsman concluded that the omission of the Board to adequately record its decision-making was unreasonable. The decisions to exclude and expel the students were held to be unreasonable in themselves. Overall, the Ombudsman was not satisfied that the Board had properly discharged its statutory function in reviewing the principal’s earlier decisions to suspend the students.

In investigation A, the Ombudsman recommended that the Board:

  • formally apologise to the student and their parents, and engage with them about how to  restore the student’s mana;
  • offer to re-enrol the student at Bethlehem College;
  • attach a copy of the Ombudsman’s opinion to the student’s exclusion record; and
  • review Bethlehem College’s record-keeping policies regarding disciplinary matters.

In investigation B, the Ombudsman recommended the Board:

  • formally apologise to the students and their families; and
  • attach a copy of the Ombudsman’s opinion and the apology letters to the students’ exclusion/expulsion records.

The Ombudsman also recommended that the Board publish information about the investigations in a notice in the college newsletter. The notice should briefly outline the Ombudsman’s findings against the Board and state that parents may complain to the Ombudsman if they have complaints about the Board.

The Board accepted and implemented the recommendations.

Disclaimer

This case note is published under the authority of the Ombudsmen Rules 1989. It sets out an Ombudsman’s view on the facts of a particular case. It should not be taken as establishing any legal precedent that would bind an Ombudsman in future.


[1]    Exclusion refers to the formal removal of a student aged under 16 years old from the school, and the requirement that the student is enrolled elsewhere.

[2]    Expulsion refers to the formal removal of a student aged over 16 years old from the school, with the optional enrolment of the student elsewhere.

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