Christopher Knaus June 20, 2012
A year 11 student who stabbed another child with a chisel has been kept out of the public education system for more than four months.
The student, who has learning disabilities, was found guilty of stabbing a fellow student at the Melba Copland Secondary School in early February, but was given a suspended sentence.
He was deemed too dangerous to return to the school after a one-month suspension, and the government has so far been unable to place him in another school. The boy's mother, who cannot be identified for legal reasons, said her son has been frozen out of the public education system, despite being urged to return to school by the courts.
She said her son will now have to repeat two terms of school to complete his year 12 certificate, and is speaking of dropping out of school completely. The case raises serious questions over balancing a child's right to education with potential conflicts to the safety of other students.
And the lengthy delays with the boy's return to school appear to go against key recommendations made in a comprehensive review of the ACT's youth justice system by the Human Rights Commission last year.
The review found transitioning at-risk children back into the education system was crucial to preventing them from relapsing into crime and becoming trapped in a cycle of recidivism.
Among other things, the review highlighted that ''disengagement from school is a significant risk factor for detention'' and that ''the delivery of education services for young people at risk or in the youth justice system should be a priority for the ACT government''.
It also recommended the directorate increase the level of support to suspended at-risk students to help them remain engaged with the education system.
The Education and Training Directorate was unable to comment specifically on the Melba Copland case. A directorate spokesman said the government viewed the safety of students and staff as of ''paramount importance''.
It is understood the directorate is still in the process of conducting only its second risk assessment at another northside school, well over four months after the initial incident.
ACT Education Minister Chris Bourke said it was not appropriate for him to comment on individual cases. ''Parents and family don't want me commenting about their children in the media,'' he said.
One close family friend, who has been lobbying the government to get the boy back into school, said the delays were unacceptable.
''How long is it going to take, another two weeks, three weeks, four weeks, a month to finalise the risk assessment?'' he said.
''He's going to turn around and say 'Why, what's the point', he's going to be so far behind.''
The friend, who also cannot be identified for legal reasons, said the directorate had brought the boy in for a short period of work experience.
His mother said she had not been given any indication of when her son might return to school. ''Why are you holding my son back, if a judge said he can go to school and she doesn't feel he's a threat, why is my son suffering?'' she said.
''He wants to be at school with other kids, what kid doesn't want to be at school with his friends? It does affect him, he gets a bit upset.''
The directorate said it would generally offer alternative education to those kept out of school.
Forms of alternative education can include work experience placements, the development of literacy and numeracy skills, career planning, and other personal development.
It is understood the boy has received tutoring while out of school, and that Melba Copland previously sent home study materials.