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Discipline - procedural fairness

A registered non-government school must have policies relating to discipline of students attending the school that are based on principles of procedural fairness.

The Education Act requires that policies related to the discipline of students be based on procedural fairness. It is the responsibility of the school to determine incidents that may require disciplinary action and the nature of any penalties that may apply. The process that leads to the imposition of such penalties, particularly but not exclusively in relation to suspension, expulsion and exclusion,  must be procedurally fair.

Suspension is a temporary removal of a student from all of the classes that a student would normally attend at a school for a set period of time.

Expulsion is the permanent removal of a student from one particular school.

Exclusion is the act of preventing a student's admission to a number of schools.

In extreme circumstances, the principal of a school may make a submission to an appropriate authority, or to other schools, recommending the permanent exclusion of a student from the registration system of which the school is a member, or from other schools.

Procedural fairness is a basic right of all when dealing with authorities. Procedural fairness refers to what are sometimes described as the 'hearing rule' and the right to an 'unbiased decision'.

The 'hearing rule' includes the right of the person against whom an allegation has been made to:

  • know the allegations related to a specific matter and any other information which will be taken into account in considering the matter
  • know the process by which the matter will be considered
  • respond to the allegations
  • know how to seek a review of the decision made in response to the allegations.

The 'right to an unbiased decision' includes the right to:

  • impartiality in an investigation and decision-making
  • an absence of bias by a decision-maker.

Procedural fairness includes making available to students and parents or caregivers the policies and procedures under which disciplinary action is taken. It also includes providing details of an allegation relating to a specific matter or incident. This will usually involve providing an outline of the allegations made in witness statements and consideration of witness protection. As part of ensuring the right to be heard, schools could establish any need for parents/caregivers to be provided with interpreter services and, if required, make arrangements for such services to be available.

While it is generally preferable that the investigative and decision-making stages are carried out by different people, in the school setting this may not always be possible. If the principal is conducting both the investigative and decision-making stages, he or she must be reasonable and objective. To be procedurally fair, the principal must act justly and be seen to act justly. While it is difficult to combine the roles of investigator and adjudicator, it is acceptable to do so given the nature of the principal's responsibilities. Nevertheless, it may be preferable to have another appropriate officer, such as an assistant principal or independent person, carry out the investigation where possible. The review mechanism adds to the fairness of the process.

In matters where a long suspension, expulsion or exclusion is contemplated, the gravity of the circumstances requires particular emphasis to be given to procedural fairness. This includes the offer of having a support person/observer attend formal interviews. The key points of the interview/discussion should be recorded in writing.

Evidence of compliance

A registration system and/or member school will have in place and implement policies related to the discipline of students, including but not limited to the suspension, expulsion and exclusion of students that are based on procedural fairness.

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