The Canberra mother of a Calwell High School student has disputed an government official’s claim that recent reports of student violence on campus were “rare,” saying her Year 8 child has endured multiple attacks and security lockdowns after students formed violent mobs during staff shortages.
This comes after the school was forced to ban two cohorts of Year 7 and 8 students after school inspectors found they were allegedly subjecting teachers and administration staff to abuse and sexualised violence and behaviour daily.
Calwell High School in Canberra was issued with a WorkSafe Act prohibition notice on April 4, after workplace health and safety inspectors found that due to a chronic shortage of staff there were a growing number of Year 7 and 8 student mobs who would physically target and assault other students and teachers, The Canberra Times reported.
Canberra is experiencing extreme staff shortages across many of its public schools due to an outbreak of COVID-19. This is despite Canberra having the highest vaccination rate in Australia with 98.7 percent of the city’s eligible population (five years and up) having received the jab.
Teachers at the school have described the environment as “like a war zone, only worse.”
In the previous week, one teacher reportedly was left with a dislocated shoulder, several broken teeth, welts to the lower arm, and bruising to the back after allegedly being assaulted the previous week while trying to break up a fight between two students, The Canberra Times reported.
This comes after it was alleged that the teachers at the school said they were regularly taking classes of more than 40 students due to a chronic shortage of staff and COVID-19 absences, with one instance of a class of 75 students supervised by one teacher and one learning support officer.
However, Australian Capital Territory (ACT) Education Minister Yvette Berry, who avoided a vote of no confidence in the ACT Legislative Assembly on April 6 following the revelations, told the ABC that the violent incidents reported were “rare in ACT public schools.” She also said the Education Directorate had made more resources available for the school to support both staff and students.
However, one Canberra mother has disputed Berry’s comments. The mother, who The Epoch Times has agreed not to name in order to protect herself and her daughter, said her daughter has been aggressively targeted on campus.
The mother said that violent incidents were commonplace at Calwell High School and that the ACT Education Directorate had failed the students.
In an email to The Epoch Times, the mother said that in the past 13 months since her daughter began attending Calwell High School they had experienced multiple security lockdowns—the first within weeks of being at the school—during which the students were forced to hide under desks for anywhere between one to three hours while emergency sirens blared.
“That first one was particularly scary as it lasted more than three hours and I’d received a message from my daughter at the start of it, and then nothing for hours,” the mother said.
“Living close by, I saw the police had cordoned off the area. Eventually, the school sent out an email in the evening briefly mentioning there had been a security incident.
“My daughter said she felt scared, powerless, and unsafe during it. This hadn’t ever happened to her older siblings attending a different school,” she said.
Security incidents allegedly became a recurring issue throughout the year, with the child contacting her mother during each incident for comfort. The child said that each time the students were required to lock themselves in a classroom and hide under desks until the security threat could be confirmed or not.
“Last year a teacher was forced to barricade my then Year 7 child and some class members inside a classroom after they were mobbed by hostile Year 10 students rioting and banging on windows and doors ignoring the teacher’s request to calm down and not enter the classroom,” she said.
“We have also had to make a report to the police upon the advice of the school because of the violence by other students to my child.”
The child, who is now in Year 8, is receiving counselling over the traumatic incidents. The mother said the school has given her child, along with other students who have allegedly been repeatedly targeted by the violent students, “exit cards” that they can hand to the teacher when they feel unsafe in a classroom and need to flee.
“They can ‘exit’ a classroom and usually the teacher at the time lets them escape—although some teachers don’t apparently know what the exit card is for—without reprehension. But where they can go to?” she said.
“And also, why do they have to leave a supervised school classroom and hide in order to feel safe?”
The Year 8 student has also noted to her mother that most students feel the need to bring some kind of weapon to the campus for their own protection.
“Violence is endemic,” the Canberran mother said. “This situation is now past the point of isolating and reprimanding the few violent students—it’s everyone out to protect themselves. And that can be quite an extreme notion at age 12 to 14.”
“The repercussions from teachers may seem less daunting than the thought of facing another well-armed student,” she added.
A spokesperson for ACT Directorate confirmed in a statement to The Epoch Times that it had received notices from WorkSafe ACT regarding Calwell High School
“The school community can be assured that the Education Directorate will meet its obligations under these notices,” the spokesperson said. “Calwell, like all our ACT public schools, has supports in place to help manage complex, challenging, and violent behaviours and to tailor an appropriate response when incidents occur.”
The spokesperson said that the Directorate is committed to providing a safe learning and work environment for all staff and students.
However, the Directorate spokesperson did not respond to questions about the alleged ongoing violence at Calwell High School. Instead, they reiterated Berry’s remarks to another outlet that violent incidents were rare in ACT public schools. They also noted that the Directorate has directed additional resources into the school to support staff and students, taking immediate action to respond to the serious issues raised.
“We care greatly about all our teachers and school staff. We continue to work very closely with our workforce through their unions to ensure that all our school staff, including principals, feel supported with their work health and safety as well as general wellbeing,” he said.
WorkSafe ACT told The Epoch Times in an email that it was investigating the school after receiving a complaint from the Australian Education Union.
“WorkSafe ACT will respond to this complaint in the same manner as it responds to all complaints. Appropriate enquiries will be undertaken by the inspectorate and we will make no further comment on this matter,” said Liz Sweeney, WorkSafe’s assistant director of media and communications.