School 'did not punish violent pupils'

LANE NICHOLS
Last updated 16:38 06/09/2011

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The Ombudsmen's Office is calling for anti-bullying programmes to be mandatory in all schools in the wake of its investigation into serious assaults at Hutt Valley High School.

Nine pupils were dragged to the ground, partially stripped and violated with various weapons including scissors, a calculator and a sharp object in December 2007 by a roving gang of male pupils.

The victims' parents were incensed with the school's response, which was to stand down the offenders and not alert authorities, and later complained to the Human Rights Commission and Ombudsmen's Office.

Hutt Valley High School principal Ross Sinclair, who was not in charge at the time of the incidents, issued a full apology this afternoon for the school's actions. The school accepted it had managed the serious assaults poorly and made mistakes.

"The Board and management apologise unreservedly for the way in which the school handled these incidents. The boys involved and their families were let down by the school."

Bullying in any form was unacceptable "and this message is unambiguous to our students".

Tabling his report in Parliament today, Ombudsman David McGee found there had been systemic problems of violence at the school but discipline polices were inadequate with systematic underpunishment of culprits.

Anti-social children were retained in the school and teachers refused to perform some duties, ''some for fear of their own safety''.

The violence and sexual assaults were not reported to police or Child Youth and Family for investigation, ''and the school took it upon itself to interpret medical information in favour of the perpetrators. Victims' parents were not told by the school that their children had been assaulted".

There was also a lack of student supervision outside class time, when the assaults had occurred.

A complaint against the Education Review Office that it had failed to properly assess the safety of the school was upheld.

A complaint against Child Youth and Family was also upheld for its failure to manage a conflict of interest held by one of its staff who was also chair of the school's board of trustees.

The Ombudsman found the school understated the seriousness of the 2007 attacks, but had since been proactive in addressing bullying and violence at the school.

In his report, David McGee recommended school national administration guidelines be amended to make anti-bullying programmes compulsory in all schools, rather than it being simply a recommendation from ERO.

"I also consider the present disciplinary procedures could be improved by requiring principals and Boards of Trustees to consider the views of victims when making decisions on discipline, when the infringement at issue is bullying or violence."

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Mr McGee also recommended the Education Ministry provide schools with more specific guidance on the levels of punishment appropriate for various actions.

"This is because the situation at Hutt Valley High School demonstrates that the lack of appropriate sanctions can contribute to, and risk normalisation of, a culture of violence."

Hutt Valley High School principal Ross Sinclair, who was not in charge at the time of the incidents, issued a full apology this afternoon for the school's actions. The school accepted it had managed the serious assaults poorly and made mistakes.

"The Board and management apologise unreservedly for the way in which the school handled these incidents. The boys involved and their families were let down by the school."

Bullying in any form was unacceptable "and this message is unambiguous to our students".

- The Dominion Post

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