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Investigation of decision to expel a high school student with Aspergers

Ombudsmen Act 1975
Related legislation:
Education Act 1989
Legislation display text:
Ombudsmen Act 1975, ss 13, 22, Education Act 1989, ss 13, 14, 17 and 66, Education (Stand Down, Suspension, Exclusion and Expulsion) Rules 1999
Board of Trustees
Ron Paterson
Case number(s):
Issue date:

In August 2009, following an incident where a year 11 student with Aspergers threatened to assault a teacher in the staff room, the Board of Trustees of the College concerned expelled the student for “gross misconduct” that was “a harmful or dangerous example to other students” (Education Act 1989, s 14(1)(a)).  The student’s father complained to the Ombudsman about the expulsion.

In my opinion, the Board acted unreasonably in the following respects:

  • it did not keep adequate records of the decision making process;

  • staff at the College failed to take opportunities for earlier intervention and to adopt alternative handling strategies before the incident in the staff room; and

  • the decision-makers did not give adequate consideration to relevant factors, specifically:

    • the manner in which the sequence of triggering events was handled;

    • the alternatives to expulsion;

    • the Memorandum of Understanding signed in 2009; and

    • the effects of Aspergers on the student’s behaviour.

My overall assessment is that the Disciplinary Subcommittee of the Board found itself in an invidious situation but that, in moving immediately to impose the harshest penalty ─ in the face of unanswered questions and a complex background, and under time pressure ─ the Subcommittee acted unreasonably.

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