PROPOSED CHANGES: Schools principals could have the power to seek details about whether a student had been charged or convicted of a criminal offence.
PROPOSED CHANGES: Schools principals could have the power to seek details about whether a student had been charged or convicted of a criminal offence. THINKSTOCK

Principals could see students' rap sheets

SCHOOL principals will be able to find out if a student has been charged with a criminal offence when deciding whether to expel or suspend them under proposed changes currently before a parliamentary committee.

Ipswich and District Law Association president David Love, in disagreeing with the changes, said it would disadvantage students.

Under the proposed legislation changes, which will be part of a public hearing today, schools can seek details about whether a student has been charged or convicted of an offence and the police commissioner must provide this information.

The power will be given to principals making suspension and exclusion decisions.

The Queensland Law Society has objected to the proposal, saying the decision to expel or suspend a student could therefore be based on behaviour outside the school.

Mr Love agreed and said the legislation would have a bigger impact on groups that were over-represented in the justice system.

He referred to 2008 Australian Bureau of Statistics figures, which he said revealed about one in six Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people, aged 15-24 years old, had been arrested within the previous five years.

"This is just an additional layer of potential disadvantage," Mr Love said.

QLS president Ian Brown said "the presumption of innocence until proven guilty" ideals would be thrown out the window.

"A suspension or exclusion can adversely affect the student, especially if a charge is later dropped or the student is not convicted," he said.

If a student is expelled pending a court outcome, they also would not be allowed to attend another school, Mr Brown said.

Meanwhile, acting Education Minister Ian Walker said the Queensland Government's first priority was safety of all students.

He said a principal could only suspend a student under this legislation if the student had been charged with or convicted of a serious offence, or any offence where it would not be appropriate for the student to attend the school while the charge was pending.

Mr Walker also said it would not apply for students enrolling at a school.

Queensland Secondary Principals' Association's Andrew Peirpoint said the debate around principals accessing students' criminal history was not new.

He said school principals needed to know what they had before them so they could put the right programs in place to protect everybody, including the student.

"We'll let the legal profession sort out the issues around that and we will dutifully enact what we're asked to enact," he said.

Principals will apply for this information, he said, because a duty of care sat heavily on a principal's shoulders.

The Education and Innovation Committee will report back to the Legislative Assembly on October 20.

CHANGES:

AT THE MOMENT

  • Schools can suspend students charged with serious offences or if it is in the school's best interest for the student not to be at school while a charge is pending

WHAT THE CHANGES MEAN

  • Police MUST give principals information about a student's charges if asked
  • Principals can get this information when deciding to expel or suspend a student
  • While suspended, a student cannot attend another school

WHAT THEY SAID

  • Lawyers say the changes will hurt civil liberties and the presumption of innocence
  • Teachers say the changes will help protect other students and school employees


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