Sat. Jul 13th, 2024

Content warning: this story includes descriptions of bullying and anxiety, and some readers may find the content distressing.

Most of the stories we have heard from parents and students at Armidale Secondary College are about students bullying other students. But one parent says it was a deputy bullying her daughter, repeatedly trying to get the good student to leave school. 

Were they a bad kid? No. Were they violent? No. Were they dealing drugs? No.

Were they struggling in school and would have done better elsewhere? No. 

They just didn’t want to wear the uniform. 

Don’t come back here

Zoe – not her real name – was one of the students hit most by the disruptive merger, having had a couple of normal years at Armidale High, then moved up to Duval, and back down to the new site for her final year. 

During the transition, none of the kids were forced to wear uniform. So Zoe’s mum – we’ll call her  Stephanie – was pretty shocked to be called to the school for a meeting about Zoe’s truancy and lack of uniform on the second day in the new school. 

“I had only once before heard about truancy. They rang me once the year before to tell me that she’d left school without permission.”

Zoe wore a band t-shirt to the meeting with the deputy, which Stephanie says didn’t help matters, but the deputy started being loudly critical in the outer office in front of other staff. 

“She looked at me and she said, why isn’t she in uniform? And I said, well, that’s what we’re here for, we’re going to work out some strategies.”

“And she just said, no, we don’t have a place for Zoe.”

The conversation was brutal, with the deputy flatly telling the year 12 student they were not welcome at the school. 

“She told my daughter ‘the government does not require you to be at school, the school does not have time to waste on you, you need to go to TAFE’.”

“She then told me, ‘she needs to go to TAFE and find a course or register with Centrelink because the school does not have time to deal with her’,” Stephanie said. 

Zoe told the deputy one of her regular teachers – who Stephanie said was a wonderful, kind, and very supportive teacher – had told her it would be ok if she just wore a white t-shirt. That turned the demeanour of the deputy even more savage.

As they left the meeting, the deputy again repeated her demands that Zoe leave the school, in front of others. 

“You’re not to come back here, you go to TAFE, Centrelink, I don’t care, you’re not to come back here,” the deputy allegedly said. 

Not a one off

Stephanie offered to take Zoe to TAFE, but Zoe wanted to stay at school. She went home, immediately changed into her uniform and went back to school.

The very first person she encountered as she got back to the school grounds was the same deputy who immediately began screaming at her: ‘I told you you’re not welcome here’.

Zoe had a panic attack as a result of the abuse. A kind teacher looked after her through the attack.

Stephanie was outraged and wrote to the Principal, then Carolyn Lasker, and the Department about the matter. Ms Lasker replied with a thoughtful letter that acknowledged the deputy had behaved inappropriately and in breach of the Code of Conduct, apologised, and indicated the matter would be dealt with. 

“And I have to say, [Lasker] was brilliant. If she was still there, I think that school would be completely different,” Stephanie said.

Stephanie also received a letter from Matt Hobbs, the Director of Educational Leadership who oversees ASC, acknowledging the incident and saying he had met with Ms Lasker about the matter. But the targeting of Zoe and attempts to get her out of the school did not stop, with the deputy repeatedly trying to get rid of Zoe for the rest of the year. 

“For the whole year, I honestly would get three, four letters a week home about Zoe being truant and about uniform.”

Alarmingly, the deputy was also bullying teachers, trying to get them to flunk Zoe out of school. She asked multiple teachers to give Zoe an ‘N’ grade, which means non-completion of a course. Stephanie understood that if a student gets an N grade they can kick them out of the class.

“I actually had one teacher approach me at my workplace and tell me that this deputy had gone to her and told her to give Zoe one of these grades so that she could kick her out.”

“And then Zoe had another teacher tell her that he had been approached by the deputy as well.”

Zoe sent a text message to her mum at the time. Crushingly, the news that the deputy was trying to fail her came hand-in-hand with the accolade of ranking 4th in the class on an assignment. 

Screen shot of a text message Zoe sent Stephanie about her teacher refusing the deputy’s demands to give her an ‘N’ grade.

Stephanie sent an email about that to the school as well, but nothing happened. Both she and Zoe were concerned about the welfare of the teachers that were telling them what was going on behind the scenes. 

Screen shot of a text message exchange between Zoe and Stephanie about their concern for teachers.

And, like many of the other bullied students we have heard about, Zoe was going to school less and less because she was scared to be there. 

Understanding the why

Stephanie has never understood why her child was being targeted. 

“The kids walk out of there in all kinds of clothes. I see kids down the street, none of them in uniform. Why is it only Zoe and I that’s having this meeting? Why is it only her being told to go to Centrelink?”

“I know my kid’s not an angel. But if there were truancy issues, why was this the first I’m hearing of it? If my kid has been such a disaster, why was this the first meeting?”

She says the deputy never inquired as to why Zoe didn’t want to wear the uniform. 

“She’s always been a bit of an anxious kid,” Stephanie said.

“This is how she sort of explained it to me: for her, after four years to suddenly turn around and wear the uniform would have made her the center of attention.”

“In her mind, so she’d have thought, ‘Oh my god, everyone’s looking at me in that, oh Zoe’s in uniform’, and that terrified her.”

Zoe had discussed her anxiety about wearing uniform with her teacher, which is when the suggestion of wearing a plain t-shirt came up. But the deputy wasn’t interested in the why. 

Zoe has since finished school, is doing well and loves her job. But Stephanie says she keeps hearing stories about both kids and teachers being bullied and believes the culture of intimidation and silence is damaging for everyone. 

“There’s some really, really, really good teachers up there, there really is, but they’re too scared to speak up.”

“If you’ve got a leadership that’s just so horrible, and berates teachers in front of kids and so on, the people who want to make the change just can’t.”

Note: Under the Code of Conduct, no teacher is allowed to talk to media about things going on in their school.  

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.

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