Schools in NSW that suspect students of sharing “terrorist propaganda” online or of racially or religiously abusing other students will be required to report the behaviour to a hotline, with all details passed onto police, under the state’s new guidelines on violent extremism in schools.
NSW schools were provided in January with guidelines for identifying “antisocial and extremist behaviour” and senior staff are currently being trained in identifying students at risk of committing political violence or joining the war in Syria.
Staff and teachers are told to be vigilant for the combination of antisocial behaviour – such as bullying, violence or damaging property – and “extremism”: “when a person believes that fear, terror and violence are justified to achieve ideological, political or social change”.
Increased religious devoutness, a significant change in appearance, “statements of moral superiority”, or searching for answers about faith and identity “in an inappropriate way” are listed as signs a student may be vulnerable.
“Most of these signs could be interpreted as typical teenage behaviour,” it notes. “However, if there is a pattern to the behaviour … further consideration and inquiry may be necessary.”
Reportable incidents include “graffiti in the school relating extremist or terrorist organisations”; “threatening other students in regard to religious practices”; “writing or sharing violent or threatening racial comments” or “concerns raised to a school about an ex-student’s activities whose siblings still attend the school”.
“If you become aware of an issue under any of these circumstances you must report to the school safety and response hotline,” the guidelines read.
“A copy of all incidents will be provided to NSW police at monthly.”
Five specialist support units, including experienced principals, psychologists and police community liaison officers, will be deployed to assist schools to manage “young extremists”.
A separate sheet given to teachers makes clear that “local, community and world issues can and should be a part of normal discussions in schools and everyone has the right to explore and debate ideas in a tolerant and respectful manner”.
But it notes, “if support for extremist behaviour is exhibited during these discussions you should advise your principal”.
All principals, senior staff and school counsellors are also required to complete an hour-long online training module. It includes case studies, such as that of a 15-year-old girl who “says she wants to travel to Syria”.
When the teacher asked her why she wanted to go to Syria she said she “needed to learn to fight to ‘help her brothers and sisters who are being murdered’,” the example reads.
In the example, the girl is also isolating herself from her friends and no longer attending basketball practice. Staff are told to report the girl to the safety hotline so the specialist support unit “can contact the school to discuss options to support the student”.
The program is understood to be different from a similar federal initiative announced by the federal education minister, Simon Birmingham, in February.
Another school resource, produced by the federal attorney general’s department in September, was widely ridiculed for using as an example of extremism a radical environmentalist who listened to alternative music.
The “kit” was also rolled out without the knowledge of researchers whose work contributed to the document.
Last year the NSW government launched an audit into school prayer groups after a 17-year-old was alleged to be preaching “extremist ideology” in the playground of a north-west Sydney high school.
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