The South Australian Premier has announced an investigation into how an Adelaide school handled alleged bullying in the lead-up to a 13-year-old student being bashed.
The student had her teeth knocked out and allegedly sustained other injuries in an attack at a McDonald’s outlet on Tuesday afternoon, and has undergone surgery.
This morning, the victim’s mother told ABC Radio Adelaide that teachers at the school had to escort her daughter between classes to protect her from bullying.
She said bullying had started in-person and then moved online, but claimed the incidents were downplayed by the school.
“Threats that we were told were ‘all talk’, you know just ‘girls being nasty’,” she said.
Premier Steven Marshall said he was “horrified” by the McDonald’s incident, and said Education Minister John Gardner would be investigating the response of the school — which cannot be named for legal reasons — to the bullying claims.
“The minister has announced this morning that he will be reviewing the way this school has handled this matter so we will wait to see what that is, but I’ve got to be careful because this is a matter which is now in the hands of police,” he said.
“Our children need to feel safe going to school.
“We’re going to do everything we can to support the victim in this instance, the family … this is an horrific incident. It should never, ever have occurred.”
On Thursday afternoon, the Education Minister said he found footage of the incident — which had been posted on social media — “extraordinarily distressing” and “harrowing”.
“When I saw that footage, my heart broke for that family,” Mr Gardner said.
He said he had spoken to the family and that a review was now underway at the school, and said he wanted to ensure the alleged attackers would not be returning while the matter was before the courts.
“Yesterday we had an external reviewer at [the school] to work with the school leadership and indeed their anti-bullying policy is one of the key elements of that review,” he said.
Two girls aged 14 and 15 have been charged with aggravated assault over the incident.
The victim’s mother said her daughter had been a difficult child through primary school but had not been in trouble in the past two years at high school.
She said she was unaware trouble had escalated and that extra security measures had been in place until a friend of her daughter messaged to say that she should come to the school.
“We didn’t really know that that was happening until we’d actually got there and [my daughter] had told me teachers were walking her from class to class, that’s when I asked her … why this high-security-type situation?” she said.
“She was being walked from classroom to classroom by teachers, or being put in the library while the whole school had assembly, for her own safety.”
School responded ‘appropriately’, department says
The mother said a subsequent meeting with her daughter and school representatives ended with a promise from a group of students allegedly involved that no further bullying would take place.
She also said she did not understand how the school’s “zero-tolerance” approach to bullying was applied in this situation.
“That’s what we’re struggling to understand — we brought you proof, we’ve brought you threats, we’ve brought you constant harassment outside of school, online, in-school — we’ve brought that to you, you’ve spoken to them and [my daughter] has returned to school because they [the alleged perpetrators] have said they won’t do it,” she said.
She said she was wrong to put her trust in the advice of the school and allow her daughter to walk home alone.
“That was a lack of judgement on my behalf — it eats at me, it eats at my husband,” she said.
However, Department of Education executive Anne Millard defended how the situation was handled.
“Our assessment is that the school was aware of tensions and was appropriately responding to those tensions,” Ms Millard said.
“We are confident the school is managing situations well, has a good history of how they’re working with the children and their families. However, we have an incident here that is significant and we need to work our way through that.”
She would not be drawn on if the situation should have been handled differently.
“The police are looking into the matter and will advise us if they feel that anything is incorrect,” she said.
The 14-year-old alleged attacker today faced the Adelaide Youth Court and has been remanded in custody for breaching the conditions of her bail.
The girl allegedly posted a live video to social media yesterday, in which she threatened further violence against the alleged victim.
Magistrate David White refused to grant bail despite the girl’s lawyer suggesting tougher bail conditions, including counselling, a curfew and prohibited use of her mobile phone.
He said the safety of the alleged victim was his main priority, and refused bail.
She is next due to appear in court on February 28.
The other co-accused, a 15-year-old, applied for bail yesterday but was remanded in custody until next Tuesday.