The Andrews government has caved in to relentless pressure over its Safe Schools sexual diversity education and anti-bullying program, cancelling its contract with Melbourne’s La Trobe University and cutting loose the policy’s architect, Roz Ward.
The university announced last night that the Safe Schools program would no longer be delivered by it and that the government would take the program in house.
The government, by taking over the program, has still vowed to continue with a version of Safe Schools, albeit one that is controlled by state education officials and not by the university.
Critics have savaged Labor for failing to go far enough, and the government will be accused of trying to play both sides of the political divide by keeping the program going but dumping La Trobe.
The government said last night it would take over responsibility for the program from the start of term one next year.
La Trobe alerted its staff to the government’s decision in a statement.
Vice-chancellor John Dewar vowed to work with university staff affected by the decision.
“While we are disappointed that La Trobe will no longer be delivering the program, we welcome the government’s expansion of the Safe Schools program, as recognition of La Trobe’s highly successful evidence-based initiative to reduce bullying of same-sex-attracted and gender-diverse young people in schools,’’ Professor Dewar said.
“We are working through the full impacts of this decision, but are committed to working with government to ensure a smooth transition to reduce any negative impact on young people in schools.’’
The announcement on the cusp of Christmas comes as the government tries to clear the decks of its mounting political baggage, made worse by Premier Daniel Andrews’s response this week to a cabinet law and order leak.
Safe Schools was devised off the back of La Trobe research into the mental health of LGBTI youths, which found that schools were a prime place for homophobic bullying.
Co-developed by Ms Ward, an outspoken Marxist and LGBTI activist, however, it has become the subject of a backlash because of its origins in queer theory, including the promotion of the concept that gender is non-binary and fluid.
Resources discourage teachers from referring to students as “boys” and “girls”, Year 7 and Year 8 students are asked to role-play as gay teenagers.
The decision comes after a photo of Ms Ward emerged at an anti-Donald Trump rally last month in which she appeared to be interfering with a Trump sympathiser.
Education Minister James Merlino said: “Safe Schools saves lives and helps stop bullying in our schools — bringing it into the department … means LGBTI students in government schools will be better supported.’’
Opposition education spokesman Nick Wakeling called for the government to go even further with its decision.
“The Safe Schools program is still designed by Roz Ward and the only action the government should have taken is to scrap the program,’’ he said.
Rob Mitchell, a gay health rights campaigner who had previously called for the La Trobe-run program to be scrapped, applauded the decision.