Palestine solidarity action could breach code of conduct, teachers warned

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Teachers who engage in a campaign to show solidarity with Palestine have been warned they could face misconduct processes if they are found to be in breach of their professional code of conduct.

Premier Jacinta Allan said on Tuesday the Education Department was working with schools in response to the teachers’ week of action, which encourages them to show support for Palestinians during the Israel-Hamas war by wearing a traditional keffiyeh scarf or inviting advocates into classrooms.

Students rally in support of Palestine in Melbourne last week.Credit: Luis Enrique Ascui

More than 200 teachers are also expected to attend a vigil outside the State Library on Thursday night.

Allan would not say what specific action could be taken but Education Department deputy secretary David Howes warned in a letter to principals on Monday that teachers who took part in the campaign risked breaching their obligation to maintain impartiality and public trust.

Howes said it was important teachers were reminded that school staff “should not use their professional position to make political statements or seek to influence the political views of students”.

“This includes not participating in the proposed teachers’ week of action,” he said.

Two Australian Education Union sub-branches, covering the inner city and Maribyrnong, started the week of action on Monday.

A government school teacher involved in the campaign said they had been warned they may be in breach of several clauses in the public sector’s code of conduct, including impartiality, using their platform for personal gain and bringing the department or school into disrepute.

Failure to behave in the ways described in the code may lead to action under relevant performance management or misconduct processes, the department’s website says.

One teacher was sent home last week for handing out pamphlets detailing the situation in Palestine but has now returned to work.

On Tuesday, the premier reiterated comments from Education Minister Ben Carroll, who has previously condemned the week of action.

“Schools are a place where students cannot just get a great education, they can get the support that they need through challenging times and these are challenging times for many in our community,” she said.

“It is simply not appropriate for additional division, additional distress to be brought into classrooms by this sort of action that could potentially cause distress to some students.”

A teacher involved in the action, who wanted to be known only as Lucy, said staff and students had expressed relief the issue was being discussed in schools, which had up to this point conveyed “disturbing” expectations on teachers not to discuss the war.

“When UN officials are calling it a genocide, it’s really, really important for teachers to do what we have said for generations, which is not to be silent in the face of that,” Lucy said.

“Schools must be a place – and they already are a place – for discussion about this.”

Lucy said she was not concerned by what she dubbed an “absurd reading” of the code of conduct, which also said teachers must be leaders on human rights.

The teachers’ week of action comes after hundreds of protesters joined the School Students for Palestine rally in the CBD on Friday. Students were asked to leave school at lunchtime for the protest.

Ahead of the protest, thousands of people from the Jewish community signed a letter to the premier’s office describing the government’s response to the school strike as confusing and the involvement of school children in protests as exploitative.

Comment has been sought from the Education Department.

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