New school powers ‘deny kids justice’
SCHOOL principals will be able to find out if a student has been charged with a criminal offence when deciding whether to expel or suspend them under proposed changes before a parliamentary committee.
Gympie lawyer Chris Anderson, of Jeffery Cuddihy and Joyce, has expressed concerns that the changes would deny children of natural justice.
Under the proposed legislation changes, which will be part of a public hearing today, a school's chief executive or principal can ask the police commissioner if a student has been charged or convicted of an offence.
The police commissioner must provide this information.
The power will be given to principals to make suspension and exclusion decisions.
Mr Anderson agreed with the Queensland Law Society's objection to the proposal, which stated a principal's decision to expel or suspend a student could be based on behaviour outside the school.
He said it should be up to the court.
"I thought if a court made a determination in relation to whether a school had that information that would be appropriate," Mr Anderson said.
"But if the schools can simply get the information, and it is an unproven allegation - that is a bit of a concern. Most of them will be children after all."
He said the move would mean schools would have the power, not police.
"My main concern is that principals could exclude people from school on mere allegation alone," Mr Anderson said.
QLS president Ian Brown, in a submission to the parliamentary committee, said "the presumption of innocence until proven guilty" ideals would be ditched.
"A suspension or exclusion can adversely affect the student, especially if a charge is later dropped or the student is not convicted," he said.
If a student was expelled pending a court outcome, they also would not be allowed to attend another school, Mr Brown said.
Acting Education Minister Ian Walker said the Queensland Government's first priority was safety of all students.
He said a principal could only suspend a student under this legislation if the student had been charged with or convicted of a serious offence, or any offence where it would not be appropriate for the student to attend the school while the charge was pending.
Mr Walker also said it would not apply for students enrolling at a school.
Queensland Secondary Principals' Association's Andrew Peirpoint said the debate around principals accessing students' criminal history was not new.
He said school principals needed to know what they had before them so they could put the right programs in place to protect everybody, including the student.
"We'll let the legal profession sort out the issues around that and we will dutifully enact what we're asked to enact," he said.
He said principals would apply for this information because a duty of care sat heavily on a principal's shoulders.