Sunday, March 11, 2018


The Groove Café at  Nightcliff  was  broken into  twice in a week   recently, this  time  running the number of break and enters up over 60 .  During  the latest  episodes  a  women was hit on the head  with a bottle .  Earlier in  the evening  the  nearby  10 pin bowling alley  had been broken into and liquor stole.   Nightcliff  has  had a  crime problem  for  years  and a 9-5pm  police station based  there  did  nothing much  to relieve the situation. Talk of  cutting  down trees  for increased  CCTV  coverage is  not  regarded as  helping  to  alleviate the  problem which  recently saw  a  fish  and  chips  shop  close down .
The following  slightly abridged  letter was sent on February 26 to Kate Pickering, president  of  Darwin's Haileybury  Rendall  School  Parents and Friends  Committee  ,  by  Karen Fletcher . 
Dear Kate,
It is with regret that I tender my resignation as Senior School Representative on the HRS Parents and Friends.
After just four weeks of school, I have become totally disillusioned with Haileybury Rendall school  management and do not want my children educated under some archaic system that  does no t prepare them for life beyond school.
We had great hopes for the new school but they were quickly dashed by Principal Glass and I was left with no option but to withdraw my four children. They all start in new schools today.
In this modern age of spin doctoring and fake news, I need to spell out the series of events  that  led  to my decision.
1.       On the first day of school. Head of Senior School Dennis Lee told Yr 11 boys their hair would have to be cut so that it was above their collar. They had a week to do this.
2.       My son Jack replied that he would not cut his hair.
3.       Mr Lee replied that the school did not like open defiance and that it would not be tolerated.
4.       The school did not contact either myself or my husband.
5.       On Monday February 5, Mr Lee approached Jack with a message from Mr Glass saying that he was not to turn up for school the following day unless his hair was cut.
6.       Jack rang me telling me of Mr Glass’s statement.
7.       I spent the next 6 hours leaving messages and waiting for a reply from the school.
8.       Eventually I was able to talk to Mr Glass and he repeated the same message.
9.       On Wednesday February 7, my husband and I met with Mr Glass and Mr Lee.
10.   Mr Glass reiterated that the school had a policy which stated that hair must be neat and tidy. It was his expectation that Jack could not have hair longer than his collar.
11.   Jack’s hair is always tied back and my husband suggested that maybe it could be plaited.
12.   This offer was rejected.
13.   Mr Glass agreed to discuss the issue internally and that a formal decision would be made the following day.
14.   On Thursday February 8, Mr Glass advised by phone that unless Jack's hair was cut, he would be suspended indefinitely from Monday, February 12. The call then ended.
15.   I rang back a short time later and asked that the decision be put in writing. This was subsequently done.
16.   I also advised that a complaint would be lodged with the NT Anti-Discrimination Commission and asked that the date for the suspension be extended to allow due process to occur.
17.   This was refused.
18.   On Friday, February 9, Mr Glass was advised that a complaint on the basis of sex, race and failure to accommodate a special need in the area of education had been made against  Haileybury  Rendall School (Darwin).
19.   A compulsory Conciliation Conference was scheduled for Tuesday, February 13.
20.   Mr Glass contacted the Anti-Discrimination Commission the morning of the meeting requesting a delay in the hearing as he had just discovered that the law in the NT was different to that in Victoria and he needed to get legal advice.
21.   In the interests of fairness we agreed to this request, a consideration he did not grant us once.
22.   At this point, Jack was permitted to return to school after missing one day and approximately 3 hours of schooling.
23.   The Conciliation Conference was eventually held on Tuesday, February 20.
24.   The full details of the agreement are confidential. As many of you will have already seen, however, Jack returned to school with no haircut.
Jack was one of two boys still at the school who started there in Grade 6 when it was Kormilda College. An elder sister completed Yr 12 there last year.  It seems strange that the school community has accepted his appearance for all that time without comment.
As you can imagine this was a very stressful period for us all. Jack’s siblings, when heard telling their friends about the situation with their elder brother, were subjected to pressure from teachers at the school. In fairness to the teachers I suspect they had no idea of what was going on behind the scenes.
The Haileybury Rendall School advertising states in part,“we are dedicated to creating a nurturing environment where every student matters”.This is clearly not the case.
Mr Lee’s statement that the school did not accept defiance in students and that Jack’s behaviour would not be tolerated is a clear indication the school only wants students who obey every command and don’t question.  Jack’s behaviour is not a demonstration of arbitrary defiance of teachers, it’s a demonstration of a clear understanding of the operation of modern Australian society and government.  He was literally being given an illegal direction and he correctly said ‘No.’
The school’s attitude isn’t preparing anybody’s children for the modern world of permanent change. The real world where people work for an organisation on average for 18 months before moving on and where individuals evolve complex skillsets through constant development.  People who question the status quo by developing new practical approaches are already in the highest demand. An understanding of the operation of broader society and government is foundational to those skills.  The world of training obedient factory and company drones ended decades ago, something Principal Glass really needs to come to grips with.  We have robots to do that work now.
Mr Glass’s attitude throughout was very disappointing and showed in my opinion a total lack of leadership or any grasp on modern Australian society beyond the school gates. He was present at the school from July 2017, but the school dress guidelines were only handed to students (not parents) on the first day of school in 2018. It subsequently became clear that the written guidelines really didn’t mean much as they could be interpreted to mean anything to meet Mr Glass’s ‘expectations’. I suspect that his ‘expectations’ on almost any subject would be different to mine.
“I’m going to suspend your son in the first week of school if he doesn’t get an extreme haircut to meet my expectations”, would have been the kind of information I would expect to receive as far in advance as possible. Mr Glass met Jack multiple times in 2017, but waited until after fees were paid and school was started to share his insight. 
A shared understanding of his expectations, presented at the end of school in 2017 would have allowed parents to provide community guidance on the topic long before this situation arose.  It would also have provided necessary information for parents to decide if they agreed at all and move their children to a school more in touch with Australian society.  However, Mr Glass acted to demonstrate that he thinks his expectations are more important than the community at large.  It wasn’t until his legal position became as clear to him as it was to me that he relented.  This is the wrong focus for any school, he should have been talking with the community first to establish a shared understanding.
I have spoken to dozens of people including politicians, teachers, lecturers and friends from all walks of life about the hair length issue and without exception they expressed amazement and disappointment that the length of a boy’s hair was an issue let alone the subject of suspension. The universal view was this idea had been dealt with decades ago and society had moved on.
Take a look at the current extensive advertising for private schools in Darwin and you will see they are generally offering a progressive education policy, a far cry from what would appear to be the expectations of Mr Glass and Haileybury Rendall. 
Putting Jack through this pain has been incredibly disruptive and ultimately pointless.  The only achievement has been to make it clear that Mr Glass believed himself to be superior to both the community and the laws of the Northern Territory.  A belief that made him waste time and energy on an issue that has zero impact on academic studies or the school community.  If this is his focus, I already know I can do better at any other school in Darwin.
The outcome of this case shows that a student who stands up for his rights can win and defeat an arbitrary decision that was found to be discriminatory, sexist and ultimately illegal. 
We can thank Mr Glass for providing a valuable lesson for Jack and all our children in how to handle authority figures who overstep their powers.  More importantly, how to bring them back in line with the expectations of the community.
I was quite surprised that public school principals I spoke to last week were  already aware of the problems my family was having with Haileybury Rendall but there again  the  Darwin community is quite small.
I wish the committee well and sincerely hope that no other student/family has to go through what my family have been through in the past three weeks.

Buildings and architecture in the Northern Territory over the years is the subject of an exhibition in the  Darwin Live Hub featuring photographs from  NT Archives Service  and  National Archives of  Australia .