In what are extremely worrying developments in the ongoing issues surrounding Punchbowl Boys’ High School, news has emerged suggesting that the reason for principal Chris Griffiths’ recent removal had to do with his lack of co-operation with government “de-radicalisation” agenda and for refusing for his school to be treated as a suspicious, crime-ridden institution.
It seems that the reason why the principal was targeted was because of his reluctance to effectively criminalise his students by implementing the government’s de-radicalisation programs. He was thus targeted and replaced.
But who replaced him? None other than Robert Patruno, “who previously ran the education unit inside Reiby Juvenile Justice Centre”. In other words, a “Juvenile Justice” education manager is now principal of the high school. This effectively treats the community, and specifically the youth, as criminals.
Another article today mentions that “police feared students at Punchbowl Boys High School were being radicalised after principal Chris Griffiths did not cooperate with a de-radicalisation program”.
The article below – while containing the typical spin that is characteristic of The Australian – confirms the information that is slowly emerging, indicating that this has been a witch hunt to remove a figure who refused to buy into the pre-emptive criminalisation of a largely “Muslim” school.
Police community liaison officers have been unable to access Punchbowl Boys High School for the past 2½ years, despite its well-known violent history and concerns that some of the largely Muslim student population could be at risk of radicalisation. The NSW Department of Education, which removed school principal Chris Griffiths and deputy principal Joumana Dennaoui this week, is understood to have received multiple serious complaints from staff throughout last year, prompting an extensive investigation.
It yesterday confirmed that Robert Patruno, who most recently headed the education unit inside Reiby Juvenile Justice Centre in Sydney, would assume the role of principal.
Mr Patruno is a former head teacher at Punchbowl, in Sydney’s southwest.
Fresh details about the level of dysfunction at the state-funded boys school are starting to emerge, including claims that management had developed an openly hostile relationship with police, including local school liaison officers, who were once actively involved with the school, visiting frequently for student workshops, to conduct mentoring and take part in award presentations.
The Weekend Australian has been told that a senior staff member was known to refer to police as “pigs” and had encouraged students to film police on their phones if they were ever approached.
There have been several allegations of non-Muslim staff being subjected to verbal attacks, including threats of beheading, from Muslim students claiming to be Islamic State sympathisers. It is understood these allegations were not reported to the police.
Disunity on campus is understood to have come to a head in December when female staff were excluded from the school’s annual presentation day.
The Weekend Australian has also been told that the Education Department, which is headed by former ABC managing director Mark Scott, wanted to look at implementing a deradicalisation program at the school but had struggled to gain the co-operation of the school’s leadership.
While a department spokesman said yesterday the investigation was “not a security review or a review into social cohesion”, he refused to comment specifically on whether the school was considered a candidate for deradicalisation programs or additional support for vulnerable students.
“Following matters raised … by a number of Punchbowl Boys High School staff, senior department officers attended the school on multiple occasions in 2016 to inquire into aspects of the school’s operations,” the spokesman said.
“These inquiries resulted in the department conducting an extensive appraisal of the school’s policies, procedures and management during the first weeks of the 2017 school year. The appraisal revealed a high level of staff disunity and disharmony, plus increased disengagement of the school from its local community.”
Mr Griffiths and Ms Dennaoui were deputy principals at Punchbowl under principal Jihad Dib, who left in 2015 to enter politics.
Mr Dib was a highly regarded educator who oversaw the transformation of the school following his appointment as a 33-year-old in 2007. Once surrounded by barbed wire, the school had been unofficially controlled by Middle Eastern gangs and was a hot bed for drug dealing and violent crime.
A new approach to discipline and the formation of strong ties with the community, including an open-door arrangement with police, worked to turn the situation around.
Under Mr Dib’s tenure, literacy and numeracy rates soared.
Now the state Labor member for Lakemba, Mr Dib said it was his “sincere hope” that the issue was resolved quickly. “If, as it appears, this is a case of exclusion in one of our public schools, then that is wrong,” he said yesterday.
Mr Scott yesterday declined to confirm when he became aware of problems at the school. “Immediate action has been taken to ensure the continuity of teaching and learning at the school,’’ he said.
Additional reporting: Simone Fox-Koob
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