Mon. May 20th, 2024

Content warning: this story includes descriptions of violence, bullying, depression and self-harm, and some readers may find the content distressing.

There is no scarier thing for any parent than when your child does something you would not have thought them capable of doing.

This was this situation for Jack – not his real name – when his 16 year old son exploded with rage and beat up a fellow Armidale Secondary College student who had been picking on him, leaving his bully in a bloody mess and in need of an ambulance.

Vulnerable to bullying

Jack moved to Australia with his New England local wife and his two kids a few years ago, originally living in Queensland. The kids experienced some level of bullying at every school they went to because of their foreign accents. His son (whom we’ll call Tom) also has ASD and ADHD, and is daughter (let’s call her Sarah) has ASD and depression, which makes things a bit harder, but they are both good kids who like learning and want to go to school.

Jack’s wife had wanted to bring the family to Armidale because of her fond memories of the community from her own childhood and believed it to be the best place for them.

Tom had been pulled out school previously due to bullying, and had been homeschooled prior to the family moving to Armidale. Sarah was initially enrolled in St Mary’s.

“The bullying at St Mary’s was worse than the Queensland schools,” Jack said.

Sarah started to struggle with depression, and began cutting herself.

“The we moved her to the Waldorf School, and it was worse than St Mary’s.”

“She got beaten up by a group of 10 girls who then poured a can of energy drink on her head.”

After that, Sarah was pulled out and homeschooled as well. She started doing better and stopped cutting.

Wanted to go to school

After a little while in Armidale, both kids said they wanted to go to regular school. So they were enrolled in ASC, with Sarah starting in year 7 and Tom starting in year 8.

The bullying started pretty quickly. And it was relentless.

“Both my kids requested to go to ASC, but they weren’t allowed to live in peace.”

In one incident, Tom was circled by a group of bigger kids in the bathroom.

“They pointed at some goop on a bathroom basin and said ‘lick it'”, Jack said.

Tom was forced to lick whatever was on the basin, and then humiliated for complying with the bully’s demands.

“Total degradation, just total humiliation,” Jack said.

The bullying continued and intensified, reaching the point that Tom started saying he didn’t want to school. 

Meanwhile, Sarah had a 65% attendance rate in her classes. Like Peter’s daughters, she was avoiding the bullies.

“She was trying to deal with it by just avoiding that group of girls,” Jack said.

“She was telling me about this stuff, she started cutting again, and went deeper and deeper into depression.”

“It kinda sucked”

Sarah, who bravely spoke to us herself, said that while her teachers were nice, ASC “kinda sucked”.

“All the kids there were really mean,” she said.

“A lot of kids there were throwing rocks, and they just kept trying to fight me.”

We checked. She did mean it literally, kids physically throwing rocks at other kids.

“Sometimes I would go to the Deputy, sometimes I would just walk away.”

Sarah said that anytime she did go to the Deputy, they wouldn’t do anything. And that the drugs on school grounds were as prevalent as the violence.

“The majority of the kids were vaping.”

“And there’s a lot of kids drinking alcohol.”

Combine drugs with bullying, teenagers, and a huge demand for social media videos, and inevitably inappropriate sexual behaviour becomes an issue. Jack said he had heard that young, unsuspecting girls were being befriended and groomed to make sexualised videos for social media.

As concerned as he was, Jack wanted to empower his daughter to make the decision to leave the school, just as she had made the decision to go to school.

Breaking point

The day that “that video” of the bathroom fight, reported widely in May, was filmed, Tom went to the toilet in a teachers bathroom. He was in a teacher’s bathroom because the student bathrooms were locked.

While he was using the toilet, a group of kids banging on the door, trying to open it. When the door popped open, something that can happen easily due to inferior door locks, the same kid that made him lick the basin in the earlier incident stuck his head through the open door.

“They wanted to use him as TikTok fodder,” Jack said.

Tom became enraged, lost control, and started beating up his bully. 

“I’m ex military. They say a soldier can stay in a war zone for a maximum of 270 days in a certain condition before they break down,” Jack said.  

“No child should ever be in an environment that induces that kind of rage.” 

Jack says his son hit the bully hard, and kept hitting him until his tormentor was covered in blood.

As soon as he was notified of the incident Jack came to the school. Shaken and blood-stained, Tom was being hidden by teachers.

“They had to hide him, because there was a tribe of about 20 kids hunting for him.” 

“They had to sneak him off with about 7 teachers to protect him to get him out of the school.” 

Police and ambulance attended the incident, but no charges were laid.

Jack pulled the kids from ASC that day. They are both now being homeschooled, getting mental health support from Headspace, and doing better. Tom has taken up boxing to work on his rage issues.

Sarah says she would still like to go to normal school.

“But not at ASC.”

Leadership to blame

Jack is very clear on his view that the significant issues at the troubled high school is due to poor leadership.

“These people, they’re not leaders. The administration is rotten.”

“The children are not at fault here, they have weak leadership.”

He also does not blame the teachers, who he believes are being let down as much as students are by the poor leadership.

“They’re having teachers getting assaulted. The amount of verbal abuse they get is unbelievable.”

“It’s a toxic culture there.”

He also acknowledges that the issues at ASC, while completely unacceptable, align with other issues in the broader Armidale community. As well as the bullying Sarah experienced at the primary schools she attended, he pointed to the bullying issues at Armidale’s biggest employers APVMA and UNE and other signs of a broader problem of social decay.

“There’s a meth problem, there’s a homeless problem, they’re actively trying to get rid of departments at the University… it’s really bizarre.”

“I don’t even know how to describe it, but the kids are the ones losing.”

Note: The Department of Education was given a series of questions in relation to the incident involving Tom, and about vaping and drinking at ASC. The Department’s media unit has not yet responded. If a response is provided, this story will be updated or an additional story published and linked back to this story.
A detail in an earlier version of this story had been attributed to the wrong child and has been removed.

This story is part of a series the New England Times is working on about Armidale Secondary College. Reports of violence, bullying, and other issues within the school are not dying down. We want to hear your stories – the good and the bad – whether you’re a student, parent, teacher, or other interested member of the community. 

Email newsdesk@netimes.com.au or DM our Facebook page if you’d like to tell your story. The names of all parents and children in personal stories is being changed to protect the children involved.

Some of the content in these stories is distressing.  If you or anyone you know needs help, please contact: