ANSWERING CALL: Mullumbimby High School principal Ian Graham with flowers and letters of condolences to Jai’s family, school staff and its students.
ANSWERING CALL: Mullumbimby High School principal Ian Graham with flowers and letters of condolences to Jai’s family, school staff and its students. Jay Cronan

Bullying 'no role' in Jai's death

SITTING in his office, surrounded by letters of support and flowers from well-wishers, Mullumbimby High School principal Ian Graham has just been through the hardest two weeks of his life.

Not only has he had to steer the school community during a time of great tragedy and grief after the death of Year 9 student Jai Morcom, he has also had to endure a campaign of vilification played out in the national media.

When asked how he felt two weeks after the terrible event that ripped his school apart, Mr Graham said he felt proud.

“I am proud at the way in which the school has pulled together to meet the crisis and to respond to the tragedy,” he said.

“It would be so easy for everyone to just fall apart but that's not what has happened.

“In fact, the whole school has really pulled together, and while it's an emotional time for me and has had its impact, I am also really encouraged by the support I have received from both staff and beyond the school too.”

Mr Graham also acknowledged the role Jai's father, Steve Drummond, played in the community.

“Given that this could have been a potential for more conflict, he has been able to harmonise the community through his actions and he has my support,” Mr Graham said.

Mr Graham also has many supporters, including Department of Education North Coast Region School Director Greg Cloak.

Mr Cloak praised the way Mr Graham has handled events to date and said many parents chose to support the school when about 30 concerned parents met at Mullumbimby Civic Hall on Tuesday night.

“Hundreds of parents chose to attend the art show being held at the school and show their support,” he said.

“The school itself has been exposed to bullying in the last period of time, inappropriately I believe.

“But may I say the students at this school have a very positive attitude to each other in general. They are supportive of each other.

“The death of Jai was a tragedy but I don't believe it was the result of bullying and neither do the police.

“I think the professional term is that it was a flash point of violence.”

Mr Graham said the incident that led to Jai's death was a dispute that turned into a skirmish.

“There was no pattern of bullying leading up to it,” Mr Graham said.

The school had absolutely no tolerance for bullying or violence, he said.

“Any aggressive behaviour using violence is met with suspension procedures and it is not tolerated. We work with the students to minimise and ensure it doesn't occur again,” he said.

Mr Graham has been princicpal at Mullmbimby High for the past three years. Previously he held a position as senior education officer at the Lismore Education Office and, before that, was deputy principal at Kyogle High School.

The school had to focus on supporting people within its community in dealing with Jai's death, he said.

“It is also an opportunity for us to reflect and work with the students in our community to improve our school,” he said.

“This is a unique opportunity for us to really look inward and to bring about some change for our school and most importantly also for our community to think about it as well beyond the school. The school can't just work in isolation.”

Since Jai's death the Education Department has given the school a third deputy principal, two extra teaching positions and has reinstated its community liaison officer.

Mr Graham said he had also asked the department to review the school in November.

“The terms of the review will be negotiated with the school community but it will be around student welfare and student wellbeing,” he said.

“The material that was received last week from the school community regarding improvements to the school will go towards that review and help us in terms of reference.”

“Anyone and everyone can be interviewed and come forward at that time,” Mr Cloak said.

“It will be a clear and transparent process and will open the school up, pulling the blinds up and letting the light in. And if people want to say something they can.”

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