Waikato schools remove thousands of students
Children as young as five "with deep-set problems" are among more than 2000 Waikato students stood down from school last year for offences including sexual abuse, assault and drug use.
The figures – released under the Official Information Act – show there were 2193 stand-downs in 2011, from a total roll of 71,063.
There were 523 suspensions, which resulted in 141 exclusions and 13 expulsions.
Morrinsville College had the highest number of stand-downs with 149, followed by Hamilton's Fraser High School with 126.
Hamilton Boys' High School had the third highest number with over 100.
However, Fraser High School had the highest number of suspensions with 36, and exclusions with 14.
The reasons for disciplinary action included sexual misconduct and harassment, physical assault on students and staff, alcohol and other drug use, theft and arson.
The figures showed the highest number of stand-downs and suspensions were of students between 13 and 15, though some as young as 5 made the list.
Waikato Principals' Association chair and Marian Catholic School principal John Coulam said primary school students were not immune from being stood down for serious offences.
"Some five-year-old children come to school with deep-set problems that could be a result of being affected by drugs, alcohol," he said.
"They come to school and they haven't quite been socialised, they don't know boundaries and they can be extremely disruptive."
He knew of rare cases when primary students had been stood down for sexual misconduct.
"I have known it to happen where a child has learned something they've seen on a video that was beyond their years. It could happen at any age. It just depends what parents are allowing their children to see."
Morrinsville College principal John Inger said the school's high numbers were due to a "no nonsense" response to a high-profile assault early last year.
The incident involved a girl being severely bashed by a group of girls in a school toilet. Police also became involved in a brawl that broke out on school grounds.
At the time many in the community thought the girls should be expelled, organising a protest outside the school which was widely reported.
"We took an absolutely no nonsense approach. We make no apology for the fact that we set high standards here and when kids stepped over that mark then we stood them down from school."
He said he was aware of three "very serious" physical assaults and one serious sexual assault at the school last year.
The incident was not rape, but Mr Inger would not disclose details.
Sexual misconduct and abuse "would almost certainly happen at every school", he said.
"Kids, basically, are adolescents so sexual awareness is something they're coming to grips with and they make mistakes in terms of that."
Most often the offending involved inappropriate comments, and occasionally touching.
"For instance, it might be pinching bottoms. Nevertheless, any sort of sexual abuse is unacceptable."
The most common offences were continual disobedience, assault and verbal abuse. Only 16 stand-downs had occurred this year and school life had improved, Mr Inger said.
Post-Primary Teachers' Association president Patrick Walsh said, while stand-down numbers were declining, serious offences were on the rise.
"Students who are very violent, who use drugs and have sexual health issues – they're not caused by the school. They're caused in the family environment generally, and they come from dysfunctional homes."
Fraser High School principal Virginia Crawford did not respond to questions.