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Discipline and Punishment


This information will apply to you if you go to a state (or government) school in Tasmania. If you go to a private or Catholic school, you and your school’s legal rights may be different. For information on discipline and punishment for a private or Catholic school, send us a Lawmail.

Q: Hi my name is Ralph and I go to school in Tasmania. I received a detention for throwing balls of paper at a friend. We were only playing around and I don’t think I deserve a detention. When can I be given a detention?

A: Hi Ralph. You should be able to find out when a teacher can give you a detention by reading the school’s student behaviour policy. You can get a copy of the school discipline policy from the school office or website.

In general, you may be given a detention when you behave in an unacceptable way.  This includes things like when your behaviour threatens another person’s safety or prevents the other students from learning. If the teacher thought that your behaviour was disruptive because you disturbed the class by throwing balls of paper during class time or if they thought that you were preventing other students from learning or that you could hurt someone (say by hitting them in the eye) then the teacher can give you a detention. They can also give you a detention if you have disrupted the class on multiple occasions.

If you think that you have been treated unfairly you may want to talk to your teacher or the principal.

Q: Hello, my name is Cindy and I attend school in Tasmania. A friend of mine was suspended because he got into a fight with a classmate but I think the punishment they gave him was too harsh. What can the school punish him for and what kind of punishment can they give him?

A: Hi Cindy. Every public school in Tasmania has a student behaviour policy. The policy must explain what unacceptable behaviour is and how you can be punished. When the teacher or the school punishes a student they must always consider the Learner First Values.

Some examples of unacceptable behaviour include:

  • Refusing to participate in class;
  • Disobeying class instructions;
  • Disrupting other students from learning;
  • Harming other students.

If the school decides that your friend’s behaviour was unacceptable, they can suspend him for up to two weeks. If they want to suspend him for a longer period of time, the school cannot give the punishment on its own.  The school must contact the Secretary of Department and the Secretary must decide what punishment is appropriate.  The Secretary can issue a suspension, exclusion, expulsion, or prohibition (this will prevent your friend from enroling in any State school).  You can refer to the Suspensions and Expulsions Lawstuff page for more information.

We can only provide general information as you are asking a question on behalf of your friend. If your friend has a question that we haven’t answered here please ask him to send us a Lawmail.

Q: Hi, my name is Frank. I go to school in Tasmania. My teacher got angry at me and my friend for talking during class. I get that we shouldn’t have but he gave us a detention for all of lunchtime. I really wanted to play cricket with my friends, but I couldn’t even eat lunch. Is that allowed?

A: Hi Frank. There is no specific law or rule about the length of time that a teacher can give a detention. You will need to look at the student behaviour policy of your school.

However, when a teacher gives a detention, the teacher must consider many things. If the teacher decides to give you a lunchtime detention, the teacher needs to think about how you will eat lunch because eating lunch is important to your health and well-being.

If the teacher decides to give an after school detention, the teacher needs to think about things like how you will get home and the teacher must always contact your parents to tell them about the detention.

Other things the teacher should consider are include whether you are made to do something meaningful and the appropriate length of time that a detention should last.

Q: Hi, my name is Phoebe. I am in year 11 at high school in Tasmania. I wanted to know if a teacher can stop me from going to the toilet during class time. I politely asked the teacher, but she wouldn’t listen. Can I be punished if I go anyway?

A: Hi Phoebe. There is no law that specifically says when a teacher can or must allow you to go to the toilet during school time. But teachers are responsible for taking steps to ensure the safety and well-being of students.  If you urgently need to go to the toilet during class, and the teacher’s refusal could negatively affect your health, then you should be allowed to go.

Harassing or interrupting the class in order to go to the toilet could get you in trouble. If your teacher isn’t listening you may want to wait for a few minutes until the teacher can listen to your question before acting. If it is urgent then you will need to leave the room and explain to your teacher when you return why you left.

If you have a medical condition that causes you to need to use the toilet frequently or outside of recess times then you may want to talk to the teacher privately or ask your parents to write a note explaining your situation.

Phoebe, it is a brave decision for a teacher to refuse to allow a student to go to the toilet. It could also be considered unacceptable given that the outcome could cause embarrassment for the student. We think that it would be a good idea to speak quietly to your teacher and ask for permission. If you are a reliable student and the teacher knows that you are genuine you should find that the teacher will give you permission.

If you have a question about school discipline and punishment that we haven’t answered here please send us a Lawmail.

This page was last updated 16 April 2015.


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