A Western Australian primary school principal has taken the state back forty years with a race row after he targeted all the Aboriginal students in trying to address misbehaviour.
The northern Perth primary school of Neerabup was the talk of its local communities when on Friday, March 1, its principal Brett Lewis tried to address alleged discipline problems by ordering to a special meeting all Aboriginal children from Years 3 to 7 - all of them together.
Mr Lewis said he wanted to discuss the discipline issues at the school with the 15 Aboriginal children. He singled out the 15 students out of 390 students enrolled at the school. It was a time warp to the 1950s when Aboriginal children could be excluded from schools on the instruction of a teacher, a parent, the Parents and Teachers association and no bona fide grounds had to be given.
Mr Lewis ordered the 15 Aboriginal students to a special meeting where he lectured them on the misbehaviour of a few of them. He called them in over the school's PA system. Community members and advocates have slammed this as racist, racialist, discriminatory and that it smacks of segregation. Upset parents have said why was 'race brought into it' and why were all Aboriginal students segregated to this meeting and lectured for what one or two students may have done.
The school has been slammed because some believe that the Aboriginal students were humiliated by being called in to the special meeting over the school's PA system.
Some non-Aboriginal parents have complained about Mr Lewis' conduct and that it was racist and that the school's conduct should be discussed at a Parents and Teachers Assocation meeting, at the school board meeting and with the Department of Education.
One parent, irate at the school's conduct in targeting his child went to the school on Tuesday, March 6 and launched into a tirade at Mr Lewis. Police were called in by the school when allegedly the irate parent manhandled Mr Lewis.
Another parent, Marg Collard has three children at the school and she was distraught that her children were pulled up because of their racial characteristics and not on merit. She said that the Aboriginal students had felt 'named and shamed.'
Mrs Collard said, "It's segregation and it is wrong. They made it seem that the kids are seen as black and white. This stuff, well I thought stopped twenty or thirty years ago."
The National Indigenous Times has contacted the Education Department with several questions which have not yet been replied to however Education Department north metropolitan executive director Jim Webb released a general statement in that in recent weeks 'there has been bad behaviour, vandalism and theft at the school' - He said that there had been an admission that some Aboriginal students had confessed to being involved.
Mr Webb excused the actions of Mr Lewis in that he want to encourage positive behaviour by 'sharing' in a 'circle' respect. Mr Webb said, "The principal asked all Aboriginal students in years 3 to 7 to attend a meeting known as a 'sharing circle', designed to encourage children to distinguish between making good and bad choices and to respect each other and their school."
Mr Webb defended the method and that it had been facilitated in the past with specific gender and age groups. He reiterated that the school was not suggesting that all the Aboriginal students were behaving badly at or outside school. "However, the principal acknowledges that while the approach was well-intentioned, it was unwise on reflection as a small group of parents had perceived the actions to be racially insensitive," said Mr Webb.
Elders said that every parent had a right to be disturbed and angry by the principal's actions. Nyoongar Elder Cedric Jacobs said, "It was racially motivated." Nikyina university graduate, Sofie Mirniyinna said, "This is marginalisation and a school principal with obvious lengthy experience, and years of scholarly thinking, should know better. How did this happen in 2012, in that he has made these children feel different, inferior and that there is something of a negative implication of the colour of their skin and their appearance? He has to have a good look at himself, and the Department of Education has to have a good look at him, the school and itself. You do not pull up every Aboriginal person up in an institution and tell them they are all cut from the same cloth, and that they have a choice of being a good or bad Aboriginal."
The school has said it is contacting parents to reassure them of the well-meaning intentions of the ill-fated call out to the students. Police will not be taking any action against the irate parent who allegedly shouted and pushed Mr Lewis.