A tough but necessary call

Farrah Tomazin

The government’s decision to re­vamp Safe Schools and cut ties with its controversial co-founder Roz Ward is a tough but necessary move to preserve the integrity of program that is invaluable for so many young people.

Part of it, of course, is about polit­ics. Fairly or unfairly, Ward has be­come a flashpoint for critics who claim that Safe Schools is less about tackling homophobia and more about promoting Daniel Andrews’s “rainbow agenda”, or radical theories about gender and sexuality.

But part of it is fuelled by genuine concerns, within the government and across the LGBTI community more broadly, that a program that could save lives could be continu­ously undermined by sustained at­tacks from the Australian Christian Lobby, the state opposition, and sec­tions of the Murdoch press.

It’s also worth noting that, seven years after it began in Victoria, Safe Schools remains the only mandat­ory classroom program delivered by an external provider: in this case, Ward’s employer, La Trobe Uni­versity.

To that end, it makes sense to give the Education Department sole re­sponsibility for rolling it out, rather than a small team of academics, particularly if the government is serious about expanding the program to every state secondary school over the next two years.

Will this change what the program looks like in classrooms? Not ini­tially. Under the new structure, teachers will still have access to the same lesson plans for the same-sex attracted or gender diverse stu­dents, and pupils will still have ac­cess to the same kind of support.

But the program will be continu­ously reviewed and improved through the Education Department with the support of an LGBTI refer­ence group co-chaired by Gender and Sexuality Commissioner Rowena Allen, as well as principals, students, parents and anti-bullying experts.

This can only be a good thing, giv­ing the community more ownership over the program’s direction, while ensuring the government is publicly accountable for it.

It’s unfortunate that it had to come this: after all, Ward and her team have effectively lost their jobs a week before Christmas, although it’s fair to say her tendency to court controversy (just as she did again last month when she was photo­graphed at an anti-Trump rally try­ing to remove the cap off a Donald Trump supporter) didn’t exactly help her cause.

But as Education Minister James Merlino put it on Friday [16 December]: “Safe Schools has always been about more than just one person; it’s about stopping the bullying and harass­ment of young people who are same-sex attracted and gender di­verse. We know that it works, and we know that it saves lives.”

From: http://www.theage.com.au/victoria/safe-schools-revamp-cutting-ties-with-...