In the final days of the school year in 1995, I suffered my most shameful school experience. It was an event so traumatic that it eclipsed even the day that, during a cheeky lunchtime game of ‘Truth or Dare’ (which should have just been called ‘Person X Must Kiss Person Y’ given the way it was played at my school), I accidentally bit the bottom lip of the girl I was ‘dared’ to kiss, forever after earning the nickname ‘The Biter.’
No, I did not have a girlfriend during high school. Thanks for bringing that up.
My most traumatic school day was the day I received my first, and only, holiday detention. Oh the shame.
I was always such a good kid, sitting up straight, raising my hand to answer questions, tucking in my shirt and pulling up my socks. I was (and still am) so nerdy that I am not sure I would have survived for long at a public school (at least, not without emotional and physical scarring). Instead, I begged my parents to send me to a small private school in the Hunter Valley region of New South Wales with children whose idea of bullying was to not invite a classmate (me) to the weekend pony ride through the wineries.
I took the school rules seriously and followed them religiously. It was then absolutely soul crushing when I got a holiday detention for talking to the girl sitting next to me during the end-of-year school presentation night. I can still remember the feeling of being escorted out of the presentation hall, all eyes on me, by my (until that moment) favourite teacher, Mr Gore. I was so ashamed, and so angry in my own, arrogant and childish way. ‘Detentions are not fair…’ I thought to myself. ‘…when I receive them’ I quickly added.
In my older, slightly wiser years, I have come to realise that school detentions are a good thing. Given the behaviour I see from the youth these days, I am very much in favour of instilling a sense of discipline in the minds of the next generation of adults. If I could produce a child (or if any parent was foolish enough to leave their child near me), I would want to keep it in permanent detention from the age of five to twenty-five.
Despite my advanced years, there is still something of that arrogant little child in me who needs to know: is there any way the law can be used to get out of a school detention, whether fairly or unfairly given?
I hope the following information is helpful to any school-aged readers out there, and that it helps you get out of an unfair detention – something I was never able to achieve.
The first thing to work out is whether you go to a public school, private school, or religious school. If unsure, please look at your parents. If they look overworked, unappreciated, and are trying to find out the current market value of their wedding rings, then you go to a private school or religious school. If you feel that your school is chronically under-funded, you have classrooms in demountable buildings, and your teachers seem to work very hard but earn very little (or your teachers tell you this is the case) then you go to a public school.
Private and religious schools have their own rules and laws dealing with student discipline techniques (torture), which I am not going to cover in detail. If you want the quick and dirty summary, they can do whatever they want to you because that’s what your parents are paying for.
The law puts limits on how far public schools can go in disciplining their students, although for obvious reasons these limits are not something schools tend to tell their students or put in bold text in the school rules. That seems a little unfair, particularly when students could learn a lot about the law from researching how and when, legally speaking, schools are able to use detention, suspension, and expulsion as methods of disciplining students.
I hope to restore some of that fairness to the situation. For all the public school kids reading this section, these next few paragraphs are for you. Put down your mobile, close Facebook, stop playing Fortnite, and indulge me by reading the next few paragraphs. I promise it will be worth it.
Let’s get one thing clear, right up front. It is legal for your school to give you a detention so long as it is justifiable based on your behaviour and provided that the form of the detention is not excessive in either its length or in the method of punishment (or both).
In terms of how long you can legally be stuck in detention, the laws on this are different in each state and territory. Broadly speaking, though, a school detention cannot go on for so long that you can’t get home safely or miss a bunch of your school classes. For example, Victorian public schools are legally required to limit the length of any detention to no more than half the time allocated for any recess in the school day. So if you get a lunchtime detention at a Victorian public school, and your lunchtime is forty minutes long, you can only be in detention for twenty minutes. That’s maths, buddy! See, it is a useful subject.
Public schools can give you after-school or even holiday detention, but only at reasonable times (so not at midnight or on Christmas Day). In all states and territories there are legal limits on how long after-school or holiday detention can go for, too. If your school tries to give you a detention that exceeds these legal limits or tries to force you to go to a detention on an unreasonable day during the holidays, show them this section, politely refuse to go to detention, and tell them ‘you can’t handle the truth’ in a loud, shouty tone of voice. That movie quote is probably lost on today’s generation of schoolkids, though.
In most states and territories, your school is also required to have what is called a ‘behaviour plan’ which is in addition to your school rules. School rules tell you what you cannot do; the behaviour plan tells the school, its teachers, and your parents how the school can discipline students for breaking those rules. Despite what your school or parents might tell you, students have a legal right to get a copy of any behaviour plan from their school, so email or ask your headmaster or headmistress for it. More reading, I know, but worth it, because if your school disciplines you in a way that is not permitted by this behaviour plan you can argue that your school does not have authority to use that form of discipline on you.
Finally, don’t let your public school scare you with talk of corporal, or physical, punishment like the cane or the belt. Public schools across Australia are no longer legally allowed to use physical forms of discipline on students, whether your parents have agreed to it or not.
My father, as the recipient of the cane on several occasions, would like me to pass on to you how lucky he thinks this makes students today; in his day, the cane was applied freely and enthusiastically by public school teachers. Although given my father’s behaviour during the short time I have known him (37 years or so), it does not appear that the cane led to any improvement in his behaviour. Cheeky old man that he is.