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George's story

After witnessing a range of physical abuse among staff and Indigenous students at a Lutheran boarding school, George felt compelled to act.

He was employed at the school for about seven years, commencing in the 2000s. ‘I saw students locked in dormitories and starved, staff hitting students with shoes and chairs, shocking things were happening. One staff member even had a knife held to his throat by a student and had to go off on stress leave.’

George said incidents of abuse were largely ignored by the school staff, including the principal, Barry Sanderson.

‘I knew things needed to change, the environment was very stressful for teachers and students and my health was deteriorating pretty badly. I’d tried raising my concerns about the high level of abuse with Barry, but nothing came of it, so I submitted a report outlining my concerns to the Church administration and copied Barry in.’

George told the Commissioner, ‘At the start of the … school year I didn’t last two days, because nothing had changed. I ended up taking a total of four months off sick and when that leave ran out I took 12 months of unpaid leave … The notion of returning to the school was unthinkable, it was such a horrible place’.

During his leave, George contacted the Lutheran Schools Association to highlight his concerns, and suggest that staff employed with the school undergo criminal screening and Working with Children Checks.

‘It seemed ludicrous that some of the staff hadn’t even had police checks because it wasn’t part of school policy.

'I recommended that police come to the school and take the personal computers of three staff members, including Barry, because I felt there was something odd going on with those staff that may have involved students. Barry used to take students back to his home.’

When the period of George’s unpaid leave expired, he again advised the Lutheran Schools Association that he would not be returning to the school until conditions had improved.

‘About a month later Barry sent me a letter stating that I’d abandoned my employment, so I rang the Lutheran Schools Association and said the real reason I wasn’t going back was because I didn’t agree with the way the school was being run.’

George told the Commissioner that he heard nothing further from the school until the end of the school year.

‘In late December, Barry wrote and again stated that I’d abandoned my employment and I responded advising I would return to the school at the start of the [the next year] since I’d heard he was leaving before then. But when I spoke to the new principal in January, he advised me that my employment had been terminated.’

George said he hoped his information would make the community aware of the abuse he believes is still happening at schools operated by the Lutheran Church.

‘In my view I was dismissed because I was drawing attention to abuse within the school and pushing for investigations to be carried out. I was driven by my concerns for student safety as boarding facilities need policies in place to protect students and staff. In the end, it cost me my job, but I truly want people to understand what’s happening under the watch of the Lutheran Church, and realise that it’s happening now.’

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