Parents urge crackdown on bullying

THE small community of Batlow has been shocked by recent allegations involving an 11-year-old student threatening two fellow Batlow Technology School students with a pocket knife.

A 13-year-old boy and an 11-year-old boy were allegedly confronted by the young person in question as they disembarked from the morning school bus at around 8.45am on October 18.

The Times has spoken with the parents of the two alleged victims, one of whom suggested the attack towards her son had a racially motivated element.

According to a statement provided to police, the victims were told by a young person during the incident: “I will slice your throat”, and “I will kill you Muslim”, whilst he brandish a pocket knife with the blade extended.

Police were told the young man swung the knife at the younger child before grabbing the older boy by the shirt and holding the knife to his throat.

According to the allegation one of the boys freed himself from the attacker’s grip as the next school bus pulled up, and the incident ended.

An Apprehended Violence Order (AVO) has been issued as a result of the incident. An 11-year-old has received a 16-day suspension from the school, an extension of an initial 6-day punishment he received.

Three other Batlow Technology School students who were also involved in the alleged incident have remained at school, with one of the boys receiving a verbal warning.

Amid concerns by one of the parents about racial taunts directed at her son in the lead up to the alleged attack, a Department of Education spokesperson said the incident was not racially-motivated.

“Investigations have not sustained that the incident on Thursday morning was race-related,” the Department of Education spokesperson said. “Racism in any form is not tolerated at BTS.

“When the school became aware of several unreported racist comments, the school has acted strongly to discipline and counsel the students that making such statements is unacceptable.

“Investigations do not suggest that the issue was race-related.”

The mother of the 11-year-old victim said her son has repeatedly been taunted by racial slurs including being called a muslim, blackfella, a refugee and having asylum seeking parents. She felt it ironic as he is none of these things  – he just happens to be dark-skinned. The race- related remarks have continued past Thursday’s incident, she said.

“Batlow is not a racist town,” the mother said. “These incidents emanate from a very small number of students, most of whom are not originally form Batlow. This type of racist and violent behaviour needs to be stamped out.

“If racism is allowed to get a foothold it will escalate. The school is aware of previous incidents involving bullying and the racist element is escalating it.

“I have fears that a child who you wouldn’t imagine would be bullied, like mine, is copping this, what is going on with other children who don’t stand up for themselves?

“According to my child’s police statement the other child did say “I will kill you, you Muslim”, as he tried to knife him. Given previous racist name calling, I believe this is an accurate recollection.”

After the incident the victims were kept in the school staffroom for the remainder of the school day and in both their statements regarding the event, said they were agitated and shocked and feared the young person would enter the staff room with a knife.

Both spoke with the school counsellor but it wasn’t until school was over on the day of the alleged attack that the boys would speak with their parents, a fact that infuriated parents of the two boys.

“We should have been called straight away,” the mother said. “The principal said the delay in contacting us was due to the need to establish what had happened and who was involved. “Regardless of this, the boys were in shock, as were the other children that witnessed the event, and we should have been called immediately.”

The mother said she has received an apology from the principal regarding the delay in contacting her, which she has accepted.

“I understand that it was a very stressful day for everyone at BTS – my concern is that the procedures of the Department of Education don’t seem to make contacting the parents of a victim a priority,” she said. “That needs to be addressed.”

The mother, along with the older victim’s mother, holds fears that the school is powerless to expel the young person and are calling for the protocol for dealing with any future incidents to ensure more support for the victims and their families.

“The system needs to be changed so that children who are a violent threat can be expelled,” she said. “If trying to stab one student and holding a knife to another’s throat is not enough to get you expelled in NSW, what is?

“The other students at BCS have the right to be safe and secure in their own school. I should not have to remove my children to keep them safe.”

The mothers say they have received tremendous community support since the incident and are not trying to create hysteria or fear within the community. Rather they wish for the matter to be out in the open and the school to be transparent in how they are dealing with issues of bullying and violence.

“The intimidation is still continuing at school from one of the other children who was involved,” the mother said. “I have found the staff to be great but this needs stamping out from the top. The school needs to be able to deal with such issues and if not, parents need to stand up and put a stop to it.”

The mothers, along with other parents of children at BTS, are worried about what will occur when the young person returns to school.

The parents have been told the student’s return to school is pending on a completion of a risk assessment by the relevant personnel and the satisfactory completion of a suspension resolution meeting prior to that date.

The Education Department said the appropriateness of the disciplinary action taken by the school has been discussed with and was supported by the School Education Director and meets the DEC policy, including reporting the matter to police and supporting any action they see as appropriate.

“As soon as initial investigations confirmed that a knife was involved the DEC Safety and Security Directorate and police were involved,” the spokesperson said. “When police arrived later in the day, the school’s investigations, including extensive witness statements, were made available to police to assist with their inquiries.”

The parents of the victims are scared re-entry for the young person will be a formality and are scared that next time something happens, it will end up in tragedy, for all involved.

“It is a fairly assimilated environment in Batlow, there a lot kids from different backgrounds who don’t think of themselves as anything else but Australian. They just have different skin tones,” the mother said. “In any town, racism and violence is an ugly element.

“This behaviour by this small group of boys is not representative of the community. It has gone beyond normal teasing and now children feel threatened and realise that people want to hurt you because they think you are different.”

The mother of the 13-year-old victim expressed similar sentiments and said this is the third time her son has been assaulted in the past two years.

“What happened is a downright disgrace,” she said. “You hear things like this happening in Sydney but not in a small country town. To have this happen is shameful.

“When my son was asked by police how he felt after the incident, he said like curling up in a hole and dying. He should not have to feel like that.

“It is hard to feel that my children are safe staying at BTS, if this type of behaviour only warrants a suspension and parents are not rung for hours after the event. It is not good enough.”

She is concerned the overall impact the incident will have on the Batlow community if the alleged offender is allowed to return to school and is questioning why the other children allegedly involved have not received punishment.

“We have a well knitted community here in Batlow,” she said. “I didn’t feel safe taking the children to the Apple Blossom Festival, which is awful, but lucky, because we heard there was an incident there as well.

“The school may be trying to keep a lid on what happened, but the town is talking about it and waiting to see the outcome.”

A positive both of the victims’ mothers have observed as a result of the incident is how supportive the majority of the students have been towards their sons.

“The boy’s friends along with other children are banding together and being very supportive,” both mothers said. “Thankfully our boys stood up for each other as well.”

The mother of the older victim said all children, not just theirs, deserved the right to leave the house and feel safe.

“The violence and bullying needs to be stamped out now and the school needs to be allowed to make discussions that show this,” she said. “Otherwise if a child is allegedly saying he wants to stab someone so he can join his friend in juvenile detention, and that plan doesn’t work, we have to worry that the next phone call I get will it be that my son is being choppered out.

“Given I was rung after school on the day of the attempted stabbing, you have to wonder when the school would even contact you?”