Teachers risk sanction over scarf protest

Robyn Grace Rachel Eddie

Teachers who engage in a campaign to show solidarity with Palestine face misconduct processes if they are found to be in breach of their professional code of conduct.

Premier Jacinta Allan said yesterday the Education Department was working with schools in response to the teachers’ week of action, which encourages them to show support for Palestinians during the Israel-Hamas war by wearing a traditional keffiyeh scarf or inviting advocates into classrooms.

More than 200 teachers are also expected to attend a vigil outside the State Library tomorrow night.

Allan would not say what specific action could be taken but Education Department deputy secretary David Howes warned in a letter to principals on Monday that teachers who took part in the campaign risked breaching their obligation to maintain impartiality and public trust.

Two Australian Education Union sub-branches, covering the inner city and Maribyrnong, started the week of action on Monday.

A government school teacher involved in the campaign said the teachers had been warned they might be in breach of several clauses in the public sector’s code of conduct, including impartiality, using their platform for personal gain and bringing the department or school into disrepute.

Failure to behave in the ways described in the code may lead to action under performance management or misconduct processes, the department’s website says.

A teacher who says she was sent home for giving colleagues leaflets that supported Palestine said school staff had been told to shut down classroom conversations about the Israel-Hamas war.

The inner-city teacher, who asked to be known only as Louisa, said the silence in schools about the situation in Israel and Palestine was doing a disservice to students.

She said her school had run a fundraiser last year for Ukrainian refugees in the war with Russia. She was told the same could not be done for humanitarian aid for Gaza.

‘‘We have been told to not allow any discussions in the classrooms in regards to what is happening in Palestine and in Israel,’’ Louisa said. ‘‘I think the silence that is coming from the schools is actually quite damaging.’’

The premier yesterday reiterated comments from Education Minister Ben Carroll, who has condemned the week of action.

‘‘Schools are a place where students cannot just get a great education, they can get the support that they need through challenging times and these are challenging times for many in our community,’’ she said.

‘‘It is simply not appropriate for additional division, additional distress to be brought into classrooms by this sort of action that could potentially cause distress to some students.’’

A teacher involved in the action, who wanted to be known only as Lucy, said staff and students had expressed relief that the issue was being discussed in schools, which had up to this point conveyed ‘‘disturbing’’ expectations on teachers not to discuss the war.

‘‘When UN officials are calling it a genocide, it’s really, really important for teachers to do what we have said for generations, which is not to be silent in the face of that,’’ Lucy said.

‘‘Schools must be a place – and they already are a place – for discussion about this.’’

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