Changing Schools – When is Bullying Enough?


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Changing Schools – When is Bullying Enough?

A decision was recently handed down in the Sydney Registry of the Federal Circuit Court of Australia dealing with the topical issue of bullying.

The mother in this case applied to the Court seeking an Order to vary Parenting Orders previously made in 2008. Pursuant to these Orders, the child was to attend School A.  The mother produced evidence that the child was being bullied at School A and that School B had superior policies and arrangements in place to minimise bullying.

The father opposed the application. His evidence was that School B, the new school, was further away from both parties’ residences and he questioned the level of bullying at School A.  He considered that the application by the mother was brought because she wanted her daughter to attend her former school.

The Court asked the following questions:

  1. Is the child being bullied?
  2. If so, is it in the child’s best interest to change schools?
  3. Is there similar bullying at the new school? and
  4. What is the distance of the new school from both parties’ residences?

The mother gave evidence that numerous conferences had been held with the child’s headmaster, school counsellor and class room teacher but the problems did not abate.

The Judge commented “I note with some disappointment that School A does not seem to have dealt with the perpetrators of bullying and it is the victim who is leaving the school.”

The father gave evidence that the child did have a friendship group at her current school and the school had in place mechanisms to deal with bullying.  The father expressed the view that the child is “really sensitive” and any difficulties she experienced at School A may be mirrored at School B.

The child had expressed a view that she wished to change schools over a prolonged period.  She was interviewed by Family Report writer and he observed that in his opinion she is a “comparatively intelligent and articulate child”.  The child described the playground as a “war-zone” which made her anxious and meant she was reluctant to attend school.

The Court reviewed the various factors set out in Section 60CC of the Family Law Act.  The Court ultimately found that it was in the best interests of the child to change schools as the new school appeared to have more specific policies which designated specific roles to those charged with investigating and resolving bullying complaints.  It also had a “clear and well articulated anti-cyber bullying policy which School A appears not to have in place”.

It should also be noted that although the mother had proposed that she meet any additional fees incurred at the new school, the Judge did not make such an order as it was not sought by the father and the difference in school fees was not significant.