Bulletin 57 - Responding to anti-social and extremist behaviour

Legal Issues Bulletin 57 - Responding to anti-social and extremist behaviour

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Legal obligations of schools responding to a student, staff, parent or other school community member exhibiting anti-social and extremist behaviour

We live in a vibrant, culturally diverse State. Building social cohesion and inclusion and a culture of harmony, tolerance and acceptance in partnership with students, staff and other school community members is a key objective of our schools.

Executive Summary

The purpose of this bulletin is to define anti-social and extremist behaviour and outline the responsibilities of schools (including reporting requirements) and the support available when responding to this type of behaviour.

On rare occasions, students, parents, staff or other members of the school community may exhibit anti-social and extremist behaviour that poses a risk to the school community. Any response to this behaviour must be consistent with relevant legal responsibilities of / legal obligations owed under the duty of care and work health and safety, criminal, child protection, education, family, privacy and discrimination law.

It is important schools work cooperatively with the police, members of the school community and other agencies when responding to an incident and recognise that this may be an ongoing requirement for some time.

The body of this bulletin deals with the general issues that may arise when dealing with anti-social and extremist behaviour including reporting requirements, communication strategies and record keeping. Guidance about the specific response provided to:

  • Students who exhibit anti-social and extremist behaviour is at Schedule A to this bulletin.
  • staff, parents or other members of the school community who exhibit anti-social and extremist behaviour is at Schedule B to this bulletin.

Key concepts

  • Anti-social and extremist behaviour is a term that has been developed by the NSW school’s sector and applies when a student, staff member, parent or other school community member is exhibiting a combination of anti-social and extremist behaviour;
  • Anti-social behaviour is behaviour which threatens the safe and secure atmosphere of the school and includes but is not restricted to behaviours such as bullying, harassment, discrimination, racism, illegal or criminal behaviour, physical violence or damaging school or other property. (When students engage in this kind of behaviour it is ordinarily dealt with under the school discipline policy);
  • Extremist behaviour is demonstrated when a person believes that fear, terror and violence are justified to achieve ideological, political or social change. It is important to remember that while someone may have extreme views, it does not mean he or she wishes to commit an act of violence harming others.
  • The Case Management and Specialist Support unit has been established to work with schools to assess and strengthen systems in schools to provide a safe and supportive working environment and to provide a holistic approach to the management of anti-social and extremist behaviour that impacts on the school. More information about this unit is available from the School Communities Working Together Management Guidelines for department of Education Executive Staff. (PDF 2060.04KB)
  • Parent is a reference to parent or carer;
  • Incident Report and Support Hotline (IRSH) – this unit is part of the Health and Safety directorate and is staffed by departmental employees and seconded police officers; and
  • School community member is a reference to anyone who regularly comes onto the school site including volunteers, persons doing work experience or practicums, contractors and other visitors to the site.

Examples of this behaviour

The fact someone is of a particular gender, culture, nationality, religion, descent, ethno-religious or national origin is not of itself an indicator of anti-social and extremist behaviour.

The context of the behaviour (for example the difference between a rational debate in the classroom or staffroom about passionately held views and a heated exchange in the playground) is important. Some examples of anti-social and extremist behaviour could include but are not restricted to someone:

  • expressing support for an extremist group and/or encouraging someone else (e.g. another student) to engage in anti-social and extremist activity;
  • saying they want to leave the country and fight for an extremist group committed to terrorism and violence;
  • wearing paraphernalia which supports an extremist group for example the Nazi party;
  • threats made to a school via the school’s website or social media site;
  • threatening other persons because of their different practices or beliefs; or
  • telling someone an extremist group is coming to kill them.

Should schools investigate allegations?

No. It is not the role of schools to investigate this type of allegation. Instead, schools must notify an appropriate authority (for example the police or IRSH) once an allegation of this nature has been received.

Who should staff notify if someone is exhibiting such behaviour?

Staff must immediately notify the principal (or if the principal is absent the senior officer present at the school) if they are concerned someone is exhibiting anti-social and extremist behaviour. The next step depends upon whether or not there is a situation of imminent risk.

Situations of imminent risk

In situations where a life is in imminent danger, a crime is taking place or the situation requires an immediate police response the principal (or nominee) should immediately contact the Police on Triple Zero (000).

Once the Police are called, the IRSH must be advised as soon as possible on 1800 811 523. This hotline is operated on a 24 hour, 7 days a week basis.  The relevant Director Public Schools NSW must be notified by the principal (or nominee) once the notification to the IRSH has been made.

All other circumstances

Contact is to be made as soon as possible with the IRSH by the principal (or nominee) on 1800 811 523. The relevant Director Public Schools NSW should also be promptly advised the notification to the IRSH has been made. If the principal (or nominee) has any doubt as to whether a notification should be made they should contact the IRSH for advice.

What other notifications may need to be made?

Depending on the circumstances other notifications (e.g. to Family and Community Services or SafeWork NSW) may need to be made. Further information about potential additional notification requirements is provided later in this Bulletin.

What will the IRSH do?

The IRSH will notify the Police (if this has not already occurred) and other partner agencies. They will also notify relevant areas of the department as required including the Executive, the Case Management and Specialist Support unit and the Media unit.

Are schools required to call the National Security Hotline?

No. Schools are not required to call the National Security Hotline once a report has been made to the IRSH on 1800 811 523.  The IRSH will contact NSW Police who are responsible for making contact with their Commonwealth counterparts.

What if the Police want to interview someone at school?

The procedures set out in Legal Issues Bulletin 13 – Interviews of students and staff by police and officers from Community Services – should be followed. Bulletin 13 indicates amongst other things that unless there are compelling reasons to do so, interviews of students by Police or Community Services must not take place at school.

If the Police wish to interview a staff member legal advice can be obtained from Legal Services on 9561 8538 unless that staff member is a person of interest in the police inquiries. In such circumstances, Legal Services is unable to assist and he or she may wish to seek independent legal advice.

Responsibilities under the criminal law

Requirement to notify appropriate authorities about serious indictable offences

If employees are aware of information that might be of material assistance in securing the apprehension of a person who has committed a serious indictable offence (an offence punishable by a maximum term of 5 or more years imprisonment) they are obliged to bring that information to the attention of the Police or other appropriate authority. This duty will be satisfied when the information is provided directly to the Police in an emergency or by notifying the IRSH on telephone 1800 811 523.

When could a person exhibiting anti-social and extremist behaviour potentially be committing a criminal offence?

Depending on the circumstances (including what has occurred and the person’s age and capacity), there may be a number of situations in which someone who engages in anti-social and extremist behaviour could also be committing a criminal offence under, for example:

  • NSW Crimes Act 1900 -  section 31 (documents containing threats), section 203C (threaten sabotage), section 310J (membership of a terrorist organisation)) or section 60E (assaults at schools) and/or·
  • Commonwealth Criminal Code 1995 - section 101.5 (collecting or making documents likely to facilitate terrorist acts), section 474.15 (using a carriage service to make a threat) and section 474.16 (use of a carriage service for a hoax threat).

All of these offences have a maximum term of 5 or more years upon conviction. Advice about whether someone may have potentially committed a serious criminal offence while exhibiting extremist behaviour is available from the IRSH on telephone 1800 811 523.

Legal obligations under work health and safety law

Amongst other things, the department is required to do what is reasonably practicable to ensure the safety of its staff, students and other people who enter its worksites. Further information about legal obligations under work health and safety laws can be obtained from the Health and Safety directorate (HS directorate).

Defining ‘reasonably practicable’

Assessment and treatment of risk

To meet legal obligations under the duty of care and work health and safety law it is necessary to identify the risk posed to schools by the anti-social and extremist behaviour, assess identified risks for likelihood and seriousness and implement strategies to eliminate or minimise the risk. Schools will be assisted in their preparation and response to the risks posed by anti-social and extremist behaviour by:

  • Fostering and maintaining positive and resilient school communities to help lessen the opportunity for extremist organisations to groom young people for their cause. Resilience is also essential for helping school communities respond to tragic events.
  • Identifying and supporting young people who require additional assistance to help protect them from becoming vulnerable to extremist influences.
  • Having effective incident management and support systems to manage anti-social and extremist behaviour that impacts on the school.

Further information about these strategies is available from the School Communities Working Together webpage (staff only) on the HS directorate’s website. Further information about the risk assessment and management process can be obtained from the Case Management and Specialist Support on 9707 6297 or from the HS directorate website (staff only).

Reporting an incident or injury to Health and Safety

Reporting Incidents and injuries arising from or related to anti-social and extremist behaviour to the HS directorate on 1800 811 523 is an important part of doing what is reasonably practicable to ensure safety. Depending on the circumstances this could include staff wellbeing being impacted by managing the response to anti-social and extremist behaviour. The HS directorate will provide information and advice about the management of such issues.

Reportable incidents

Depending on the circumstances a duty could arise to report an incident to SafeWork Australia. Where this is necessary the required notification will be made by the HS directorate once the school has reported the incident to them.

What should employees and the broader school community be told?

Staff

The department is required, so far as is reasonably practicable, to consult with staff who are, or are likely to be, directly affected by a matter relating to work health or safety. Consultation requires sharing relevant information and giving employees a reasonable opportunity to express their views and contribute to the decision-making process.

This may include situations where a student is exhibiting anti-social and extremist behaviour. There may be limits to the information it is reasonably practicable to provide to employees (for example information provided on a confidential basis by the Police may not be able to be shared).

Communicating with the broader community

This is dependent on the circumstances including the extent to which the broader school community is already aware a student is exhibiting anti-social and extremist behaviour. The Police must be consulted before the broader school community is provided with information about the anti-social and extremist behaviour and agreement reached about what information should be disclosed.

Developing a media plan

Communicating essential information effectively to people needing it most is also a critical consideration, and this may involve development of a media plan.

Sources of advice about communication strategies

The Media unit can be contacted about media and other communication strategies on (02) 9561 8117. Advice about communication strategies is also available from the Case Management and Specialist Support unit on 9707 6297. Legal advice about this issue can be obtained from the department’s Legal Services on 9561 8538

Record keeping requirements

It is important to maintain appropriate records when responding to a student who is exhibiting anti-social and extremist behaviour.  This includes:

  • Information about the student’s anti-social and extremist behaviour;
  • School wide activities to support students who may be vulnerable to extremism;
  • Information provided to parents, staff and the broader community; and
  • The process followed to respond to anti-social and extremist behaviour (including consultation undertaken, risk assessments and strategies to eliminate or minimise risk).

Employees should contact Records Management (staff only) if they have specific records-related queries.

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