8th October 2001.

Department of Education and Training

Northern NSW

Dear Sir,

I refer to … our son Jesse.

Jesse suffers from Multiple Chemical Intolerance (MCI). This can affect his skin, behaviour and general health. Jesse is most effected by cleaning products, food chemicals (colours, preservatives and flavour enhances), strong odours and certain plants. His reaction can be dramatic and instantaneous, or can build up over time.

Jesse is presently under the care of Paediatricans Dr M from Lismore and Dr Velencia Soutter from the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital in Sydney. He is on the RPA elimination diet under the control of dietitians Anne Swain from the RPA and N from the Lismore Base Hospital. He has been on this for some time and the change in his health and behaviour has been quite dramatic. However, recently Jesse’s health and behaviour have deteriorated which has coincided with camphor laurel chips being placed at his school. I was made aware of the camphor chips after a spitting incident involving Jesse.

On Wednesday the 12th September X from the school telephoned my wife and said that ‘Jesse had spat on another child, was behaving disgustingly and swearing and that he was with him now and what would she like done with him’. X was aggressive and abrupt. The exact events as to what happened are unclear as there have been a number of different stories but apparently Jesse and another kindergarten child were in the toilets after the morning assembly. The other boy told his teacher that Jesse had spat on him. A teacher’s Aid was sent to retrieve Jesse from his classroom where he hid under a table. Jesse’s teacher was also in the class. Jesse called the Aid a ‘fat girl’ (she isn’t fat) and was then taken to X and later to the Principal.

I went out to the school at 11am and was approach on the veranda of the classroom by Y. She asked if I was looking for Jesse and said that he was in the office and that he had spat on one of her children and was swearing at teachers. She was obviously rude and abrupt. Parents and children were also present undertaking ‘groups’ and a young girl told us that Jesse was sitting at his desk, which he was. I attempted to speak to X but he was not in his office. Later I returned to the school to have lunch with Jesse as it was school open day.

We sat down in the assembly area where I noticed the strong camphor smell. I moved Jesse as he was becoming agitated and red faced. X then approached me in the playground area. I was uncomfortable speaking to X as there were many parents and children listening. I told X that Jesse’s behaviour in the morning was unacceptable but I thought the problem was caused by the strong camphor smell as the dumping of the chips coincided with Jesse’s behaviour and health deteriorating. His teacher had also made the link with the camphor when the trees were initially trimmed.

Prior to this incident the school had not been in contact regarding our son. We had made visits to the Principal on two occasions at which time we gave him letters from the Paediatrician and Dietitian (attached) and gave him a personal letter (attached) and information on MCI. This was done on the suggestion of the Infants Department. We did have regular contact with Jesse’s teacher throughout the year. She was fully aware of Jesse’s condition and was fully supportive. She had educated her class/parents about how food/chemicals can effect him. She even banned cleaning products from the class that she had noticed effected him. Jesse seemed to be progressing well. He was very popular having friends from kinder to year 4. He was the second child in kindergarten to be awarded the Principal’s Award (which requires 25 Merit Certificates). However, things changed dramatically in a very short period of time when the Principal became involved. The staff’s attitude changed from support to contempt and aggression. Those who showed sympathy were isolated. There seemed to be a constant vigil on our son and a concerted effort to discredit him. In the last month Jesse became obviously agitated and jittery at school, and became unwell. We were requested by our Paediatrician to remove Jesse from this environment immediately.

I decided to contact Jesse’s preschool. They informed me that the behaviour Jesse was displaying at Z School was not displayed at his preschool. I also contacted the Northern Rivers Department of Health regarding the camphor. I was put in contact with their Toxicology Unit in Sydney who informed me that camphor laurel has highly volatile oils and is probably not an appropriate substance to have chipped around a school as it is toxic. I also telephoned Far North Coast Weeds who also said the same thing. As did the Southern Cross University who are about to commence a study on the effects of camphor laurel on humans. I also contacted the Department of Agriculture who had a similar opinion.

The next day I telephoned the Principal regarding Jesse’s behaviour and the camphor laurel chips. I was met with instant hostility, impugnation and scoff. P stated that it would be impossible for Jesse to react to a natural occurring substance such as camphor laurel and that my family is using this as an excuse for disgusting and unacceptable behaviour.

P continually stated that he and the staff believe I am ‘obstructional’ in this matter and that complaints had been made. But when questioned as to how he would only comment that I am being ‘obstructional now’. He said that I have made ridiculous demands saying that he would not remove the camphor chips for one child. He also stated that I was critical of staff, in particular X and Y (I have only spoken to each once). P would not listen to the fact that I told David I supported his actions in handling the spitting incident. However, I was critical of the fact that the matter was discussed on the veranda of a classroom during ‘groups’ and in the playground in front of other parents and children on open day and very much in public. P's comment was that his school is a ‘very open school’. Jesse may only be 6 but I feel that he and myself have some rights to privacy.

Also, P refused to acknowledge that I attended the school the previous morning and spoke to Y and attempted to see X after he had telephoned my wife. He continually stated that I did not arrive at the school until 1pm. I told him that I was at the school at 11am and later at 1pm for school open day and it was during this visit that I noticed the strong smell of camphor. But P simply refused to acknowledge that I was present at the school at 11am which is bewildering seeing that I spoke to several people and was seen by many more. Another child even asked Jesse if he would spit on him.

Furthermore, P was not interested in what the preschool said about Jesse. He just stated that I was abusing X. When I said I wasn’t even speaking about X he said ‘you are now abusing Y. I kept saying ‘do you want to hear what the preschool said’. P said he was ‘not interested, you are abusing my teachers, I am terminating this conversation’ and hung up. The whole conversation bordered on the absurd and the ridiculous, a disgraceful imputation on a man charged with the responsibility of 520 children. Further, he seemed to enjoy a certain amount of satisfaction and gratitude from destroying the confidence and reputation of a 6 year old child.

P has now deliberately and maliciously misrepresented the contents of our conversation in an attempt to discredit our son and family. He has made the matter the topic of conversation throughout the school by both parents and teachers. He has made a young child the scapegoat of his obvious inability to understand what is normal and abnormal behaviour. P and some of his staff appear to have obvious personal issues that should not be aired in the school environment.

P has scorned and scoffed at medical advice and has shown a total disregard for the safety of a child with a disability. He has shown discrimination and prejudice towards a child and has shown a blatant disregard for confidentiality and privacy. He has been bordering on slanderous and has humiliated and embarrassed a child because of that child’s disability. He has shown an absolute lack of care for a child with a disability and has viewed this disability with disdain. I will refrain from commenting on the innuendo made about our parenting skills and only say that on a number of occasions we were told that it is okay to slap your child.

My family has been associated with the Z School for over 30 years. My wife and her siblings attended the school in 1960s and 1970s and our older children in the early 1990s. It is most disheartening that this association may end because of the prejudices and ignorance of the Principal. P's attitude and actions has not only drastically changed the life of our son but has changed the life of our whole family. My wife will have too cease work to home tutor Jesse under the Distance Education programme. Jesse’s Paediatrician believes that Jesse will be better off being home schooled in a more sympathetic and understanding environment as he is displaying anxiety and stress – a direct consequence of the taunts and attitude of P.

I would appreciate your comments regarding this matter and ask as to what avenues (by way of an official apology by P and legal action) are available in these circumstances. There appear to be very serious matters relating to child safety, care and welfare, privacy, confidentiality, discrimination and defamation issues that need to be addressed. P is of the belief that he is beyond reproach because of his position. Should you require any further information regarding this matter do not hesitate to contact me on

Yours Faithfully,

David & Kim.

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