Reinstate teacher & climate activist Will Douglas! Review the NSW DoE’s Code of Conduct!

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We, the undersigned, are deeply concerned about the standing down of Will Douglas--a long-standing and well-respected casual teacher at Moruya High School--for an alleged breach of section 13 of the NSW Department’s Code of Conduct--“Managing your political, community and personal activities”.

Will is the Greens candidate for the NSW seat of Bega, and the basis of his “offence” is that he voiced support for the 15 March Student Climate Strike at a candidates’ forum. However, as Will has told the media, “The forum was not on school grounds, I was invited as a candidate and was not there as a teacher. I never claimed to be there as a spokesperson for the Department of Education and had informed the school of where I was going and why."

Unsurprisingly, the campaign to suspend Will has been driven by the Daily Telegraph. Education Minister Rob Stokes has more than happy to parrot the Murdoch press’ assertions: “If this teacher is found to have used his privileged position as an educator to influence students­, he can face ­action. I’m appalled that this teacher, while being paid by the taxpayer, has sought to undertake political activity­.”

But far from abusing his position as a teacher, Will made it clear to his immediate supervisor that he was attending the lunch time candidates’ forum in a personal capacity. Moreover, for a candidate to be reprimanded like this for speaking about climate change in his own time sets a terrible precedent for all public employees with a social conscience.

Rob Stokes neglected to mention that his Liberal colleague Andrew Constance, the sitting member for Bega, attended the same forum on a public salary three times what a casual teacher gets. Apparently, a sitting MP is free to push his/her political position, whilst those candidates who have a public sector job are not.   

In addition to calling for Will’s unconditional reinstatement as a casual teacher, we call for a review of section 13 of the Department of Education’s Code of Conduct.

A close examination of the Code of Conduct’s wording shows that Will has not done anything wrong. He has ensured that “his involvement in any political party, industrial organisation, or community and personal activity is understood to represent your (his) view or those of the organisation you (he) represent/s, and not those of the Department” (13.4). Likewise, his participation in the forum did not “cast doubt on your (his) capacity to implement departmental policies and guidelines objectively”. Nor was the forum “in the school environment”. And Will certainly did not “claim to represent the Department, a school or TAFE institute” (13.5).

It is increasingly apparent, however, that governments, departmental officials, and some principals are increasingly using the Code of Conduct as a blunt weapon to make teachers fearful about taking any action to defend their working conditions, or to speak out on crucial social and political issues like climate change and refugee rights.

We are concerned that standing down Will sets a terrible precedent, whereby the Daily Telegraph can dictate what teachers can and can’t do inside or outside the classroom. Hundreds of teachers, including many in NSW, have signed an online petition supporting the student climate strike. The federal AEU has written a statement of support for the strikers.

*The Activist Teachers Network NSW, which has initiated this petition, is a group of rank and file teachers across primary and secondary schools, and TAFE teachers. Like our Facebook page: fb://page/246740555448777
We have also set up a crowdfunding campaign to assist Will with loss of pay as a result of being stood down. Any excess money raised will go to the climate strike, for which Will expressed his support.