A new pilot program is providing students and families with education to help them navigate certain legal issues that might arise in their personal lives.
While the program has the potential to help stabilise households and improve student outcomes, legal education is something principals can also benefit from as they navigate complex issues involving students and parents.
The Grange P-12 College, located in Melbourne's outer south-western suburbs, hired a lawyer, Vinnie Shin, from the Western Community Legal Centre to run the classes, which provide education about numerous complex legal issues.
As students and staff become more legally aware, these classes have the potential to relieve principals of the pressure associated with a range of complex legal issues.
"Young people and children are more involved with the legal system, more so than 20 years ago and it's really important that there is this lawyer here who is accessible who they can walk 100 metres to come and see," Shin said.
Another issue is the inappropriate use of social media by students, Wyndham Legal Centre manager, Denis Nelthorpe, told The Educator.
Nelthorpe said the classes had particular value for both students and educators following recent threats made against schools on social media.
“Social media conduct is clearly a very important issue in light of recent school lockdowns in NSW. Due to the everyday use of social media there is a need to constantly remind students of both practical and legal dangers in the misuse of mobile phones and Facebook," Nelthorpe said.
“Our lawyer, Vinnie, runs frequent sessions and assists with individual requests for assistance.”
Nelthorpe added secondary students had “frequent interactions with the law”, ranging from public transport infringements to employment concerns in after school jobs.
“The principal at The Grange has noted that he frequently has to deal with family law and tenancy issues and has welcomed access to a lawyer and legal service,” he said.
“There is probably need for a clinic at every school rather than a full time lawyer.”
However, the use of an on-site lawyer has provided The Grange principal, David Smillie, with much needed assistance on the more tricky inquiries students and parents approach him with.
“What I find myself doing is listening to issues that confront people on a daily basis and a lot of those issues actually centre around family break-up, issues with relationships,” Smillie told SBS.
“Sometimes, it's around violence, in the home. I work with a lot of refugee families who are interested in applying for ongoing status.”
Smillie said helping parents to navigate legal problems had the potential to lead to a more stable home, and in turn, better attendance and retention rates.
“If you've got a young person who has significant issues at home or is unsure about their future, it's pretty destabilising,” he said.
“If you're a young person who is traumatised or doesn't know whether they're going to be in the same house this time next week, that has huge impacts on learning.”