The Youth Affairs Council of Victoria, the state peak body for young people and youth services, voices its strong support for the co-founder of Safe Schools Coalition Victoria, Roz Ward, who was suspended recently from her position at La Trobe University.
"Let us be clear about this," said YACVic CEO Georgie Ferrari. "The Safe Schools Coalition program has been the subject of a sustained ideological attack by commentators who oppose making our schools safe and equal places for same-sex attracted and sex and gender diverse young people. This is the real reason behind the personal attacks on Ms Ward. If she had been an academic working in almost any other field, it beggars belief that this suspension would have occurred.
"Roz Ward is respected Australia-wide as an expert in her field. She has played a leading role in creating the highly successful Safe Schools Coalition program, which provides expert support to teachers and wellbeing staff who wish to prevent bullying and foster equal and inclusive school communities. This program has supported around 500 schools and has received highly positive feedback from students, teachers and families. Safe Schools Coalition Victoria receives funding through the HEY Project, which is coordinated by YACVic, and we applaud the Victorian Government for their strong leadership and ongoing commitment to this effective program."
Experts acknowledge that same-sex attracted and sex/gender diverse young people are among our most vulnerable students, with more than half of this cohort of young people reporting that discrimination has impacted on their education. Two-thirds of these young people have been verbally abused; nearly a fifth have suffered physical violence (with the rates much higher for transgendered young people) – and by far the most common place where abuse occurs is at school.
"Ms Ward is under attack for expressing a political opinion on her private Facebook page," said Ms Ferrari. "But this has no relevance whatsoever to her ability to do her job. Ms Ward has always kept appropriate boundaries between her professional and personal conduct.
"We are deeply concerned at the example Ms Ward’s suspension sets to young people. What are they to make of the sight of an educational institution caving under pressure from commentators who have made clear that their agenda is to exclude same sex attracted and sex/gender diverse young people from a safe and equal education? It is vital that our educational institutions stand strong against the hateful bullying and exclusion of vulnerable young people.
"It is our sincere wish that common sense prevails, and that Ms Ward is reinstated to her position."