Schools so safe they are secret
The Australian, 14 February 2017
So safety conscious is the NSW Education Department that it is keeping secret its list of schools running the Safe Schools program, apparently so that the schools and their students are kept safe from any backlash. Never mind parents and transparency. And never mind the argument that this program is such a harmless, beneficial and uncontentious exercise in combating school bullying that all children should be given access. In the long-running and highly politicised debate about Safe Schools this level of secrecy is counterproductive and tends to boost the argument that the program is an underhand example of progressive social engineering.
If Safe Schools is as straightforward as its proponents suggest — just giving kids the chance to understand and resist the mindlessness and horrible ramifications of bullying — then schools should be trumpeting their involvement. This would in turn give all parents the sort of information they deserve, allowing them to make informed decisions concerning the welfare of their children. Instead, the department is effectively telling parents that these schools are so safe, they must be kept under the radar.
As Rebecca Urban reports today, the evidence provided to the privacy watchdog to justify the department’s approach is not compelling. It cites vague concerns that identifying schools will enable transgender, gay or lesbian students to be identified, exposing them to risk of ridicule or harm, including self-harm. It also argues that schools and their staff will be exposed to hate mail and verbal attacks. This is a similar argument to that put in opposition to a gay marriage plebiscite. It is a form of emotional blackmail against dissenting opinion and is discordant with what we know to be the broad tolerance most Australians demonstrate every day.
Safe Schools should be embraced or scrapped; keeping it as a hidden agenda is the worst option. This has a long history but it is time the relatively new department chief, Mark Scott, and new minister Rob Stokes showed some common sense. They could show NSW education is moving on from a union-cowed period under Adrian Piccoli.