Opinion: Why I support Safe Schools as a principal

by Jim Laussen26 Feb 2016

As a principal, providing physical safety for my students is usually straightforward. But when it comes to emotional safety, it's much more complicated.

In 2013, those of us at Overnewton Anglican Community College acknowledged that our school was not as safe for same-sex-attracted, intersex and gender-diverse students as we had thought.

Some students were avoiding school; others weren't able to participate fully.

We knew we needed a rigorous and well-researched program to support them.

That's why we joined the Safe Schools Coalition. The program has provided us with the practical ideas and staff support to make our school safe and inclusive for all: not just students, but their families and teachers too.

When our senior footballers tell their opponents not to use 'gay' as a derogatory term, we know that these changes are having an impact.

There's a lot of misinformation about what the Same Schools program involves. We have never been told what to do or how to do it. We have never been pressured to promote homosexuality as a preferred lifestyle, to encourage students to come out, to teach children about homosexual acts, to teach children how to bind their chests.

Instead, the Safe Schools Coalition has helped us teach our students how to better navigate the differences that they see each day. For instance, we have always encouraged our children not to use gender-based nor racist putdowns; now we are asking them to add slurs about sexuality and gender diversity to the list.

We were the 140th school in Victoria to become a member of the Safe Schools Coalition, joining a list of diverse schools within both government and independent sectors. Our focus has been on students in Years 9–12, with a small number of targeted sessions in individual Year 8 classes.

The Safe Schools Coalition helped us to identify what we were already doing well and where we could do with improvement. They then helped our staff to develop age-appropriate lessons that would, in simple and practical ways, educate our school about inclusive behaviour and language.

Over the past few years, we have also been fortunate to have some terrific people speak to our senior students about making our school a safer place for LGBTI students.

AFL players Jason Ball and Brock McLean as well as marriage celebrant Jason Tuazon-McCheyne have each talked about their own difficult experiences, or those of their loved ones, and have explained how simple changes in language and behaviour can make a real difference.

We are a faith-based school; our students can attend our school knowing that, regardless of their gender, faith, ability, ethnicity or sexual orientation and identity, they are loved and safe and that we have mechanisms in place to support each of these aspects of diversity.

Optimising young people's mental health is paramount. The resources of the Safe Schools Coalition are a small but valuable part of making Overnewton Anglican Community College a safer and happier place.

Jim Laussen is principal of Overnewton Anglican Community College.


  • by Pfft 21/04/2016 10:52:17 PM

    When I went to Overnewton, none of the teachers gave two hoots about bullying. But the second you said it was for an lgbt reason, they were all over it. It's disgusting how I went through about 6 years of bullying and not once did they care. When I was called a lesbian, suddenly they were. How about Overnewton fix its bullying in general instead of focusing in on a minority that I rarely saw bullied? In my year level when people came out as gay they were instantly popular. Set your sites on ALL your students, not just the ones that make you look good.

  • by formerstudnet 5/06/2016 4:48:47 PM

    In response to the earlier post by Pfft: I am also a graduate of Overnewton. 'Pfft' it saddens me that you experienced that bullying and felt that the support given to you by staff at the college was not adequate. However, to say the school does not care about all students and that cases of bullying are only deemed valid when a victim identifies as LGBTIQ are hyperbolic and incorrect. I can understand that as a bullying victim who identifies (I assume based on your post) as a cisgender heterosexual you may have reservations in the way you view Overnewtons joining of Safe Schools. So let it be clear, that the colleges introduction of a Stand Out Committee and the joining of Safe Schools better equips the staff to appropriately and sensitively mediate types of bullying that they previously may have had issues confronting. The implementation of the Safe Schools does nothing to take away from students, but rather allows all students regardless of their sexuality or gender to feel supported within their school community.

    I highly applaud Overnewton Anglican Community College for taking steps to ensure that school is a safe place for all students, staff and families. I am very proud to be an old collegiate for a school that respects all students and their right to an education in an environment they feel safe in.