Knives in schools
Knives in schools, legal issues bulletin 22, LIB22. This advice was last reviewed in September 2021.
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Purpose of this document
The safety of students, staff and visitors to our schools is of paramount importance. This bulletin sets out the strictly limited circumstances in which knives can be used in schools for educational purposes and how students are able to practise their faith without compromising the safety of the school community.
Students are not permitted to carry or wear a knife at school. This applies irrespective of the circumstances in which the Summary Offences Act permits someone to carry a knife at school.
Students are permitted to use a knife at school during a practical lesson (for example during a food technology class) under the supervision of school staff. The knife will be provided by the school and handed in at the end of the lesson.
Students going directly to NSW TAFE after school are permitted to bring a knife to school for use in their TAFE course provided the knife is handed in to the school office at the beginning of the school day and collected from the school office at the end of the school day.
Students are permitted to wear a religious item resembling a knife, specifically a Kirpan, provided they comply with strict new guidelines for baptised Sikh students wearing a Kirpan at school.
Guidelines for baptised Sikh students wearing a Kirpan at school
A baptised Sikh student may wear a Kirpan at school provided:
- it is of a small size, full length of 16.5cm (around 6.5 inches) or less, with no sharp edges or points;
- the blade is secured within the sheath so that it cannot be withdrawn, and
- it is worn under clothes and secured so it cannot be used; and
- it is removed and safely stored, or secured against the body, when undertaking physical activity such as sport; Note: “secured against the body” means wrapped in sturdy fabric and secured within a sports band or leather belt that ensures it cannot slip out or cause injury to the wearer or another person and
- when reasonably asked the student must verify that these guidelines are being complied with. Any safety concerns will be discussed with the student and their parents or carers.
A Kirpan will be blunt if does not have any sharp edges or point and it will be secured if it is in a sheath and sewn into the gatra (a strap normally made from cloth and worn across the body).
If a student does not comply with the above rules, their parents or carers must be notified and disciplinary action considered, consistent with the department’s student discipline policies.
Storing a Kirpan during sport
It’s foreseeable that Kirpans will often continue to be worn by students. The school is legally responsible for the Kirpan once it has assumed possession of it. If taken off the Kirpan must be treated respectfully and may be carried by the teacher or stored securely in the school’s front office.
When students will be asked to validate that they are complying with the guidelines
Students can be asked to validate they are complying with the guidelines if there are reasonable grounds to believe the student is not complying (for example another student or staff member reports they are non-compliant).
Students can also be asked to confirm this as part of a risk management strategy undertaken by the school.
When students will be told they cannot wear a Kirpan at school
Where a risk management plan has concluded that, because of a student’s history of violent behaviour, it is an unacceptable risk for a student to wear a Kirpan at school, or a court has ordered that a Kirpan is not worn (for example as a bail condition), a student can be instructed not to wear a Kirpan at school.
Principals must seek the advice of their Director Educational Leadership, consult with the student and their family and seek advice from Health & Safety Directorate before concluding that it is necessary to stop a student from wearing a Kirpan at school.
School staff must not physically search a student or ask them to lift their shirt to demonstrate that a Kirpan has been secured.
Staff must inform the principal if they believe that a student has a Kirpan and is not complying with the guidelines. They must also inform the principal if they believe on reasonable grounds that a student has a knife or Kirpan at school.
Provided it is safe to do so, the student should be asked to wait in the school office while their parents/carers are called to take the knife or Kirpan away. Knives / Kirpans may be securely stored in the school office for the day, if handed to the principal.
If it is not safe to this the school should be placed in lockdown and the police should be called.
Calling the police
Call the police if a student with the knife or Kirpan is threatening violence and follow the normal incident notification procedures.
Sikh students may be subjected to bullying behaviour As part of their Anti-bullying Plan, schools should maintain a climate of respectful relationships where bullying is less likely to occur. They should use their existing programs for bullying prevention, provide support for any student who is at risk of being bullied, respond consistently to bullying behaviour and empower the whole school community to recognise and respond appropriately to bullying and behave as responsible bystanders.
Staff and adult visitors
Staff and visitors to a school must comply with the Summary Offences Act which prohibits them from carrying knives in schools (or public places) without a reasonable excuse. It is a reasonable excuse for a staff member or visitor to carry a knife at school for:
- the lawful pursuit of the person’s occupation, education or training (for example an electrician may need to use a knife if called to the school)
- the preparation or consumption of food or drink (for example an adult preparing food in the school canteen).
Staff and visitors who are baptised Sikhs are also able to wear a Kirpan at school. If a Kirpan is used to threaten, intimidate or injure any person the police must be called.
Practical implementation of the guidelines
- Amend school discipline policies in consultation with the school community to reflect the strengthened knife guidelines and set out the process that will be followed if students:
- Do not comply with the strict guidelines for wearing a Kirpan at school
- if a student has a knife at school in any other circumstance
- It is foreseeable that Sikh students may be the focus of bullying behaviour as a consequence of the implementation of these guidelines. Existing school discipline and welfare policies should be reviewed to make it clear that this behaviour is unacceptable and will be dealt with as a breach of the school’s discipline and welfare policy
- Brief staff and the P&C about the new guidelines if baptised Sikh students attend the school
- Contact the school community including all parents and carers to advise them of the new guidelines
- Review existing risk management strategies for baptised Sikh students. A template environmental risk assessment is available on the Health and Safety noticeboard.
- Where the use of knives or blades is an essential requirement of a course, develop/review procedures for their use, including necessary risk assessment and management.
When to contact other areas
If you have an urgent knife situation or threat, phone NSW Police on 000.