A PRESTIGIOUS Hunter Catholic school is embroiled in controversy after student votes were overlooked in favour of electing school captains with parents working in the Catholic education system.
The boy and girl who won the captaincy ballot for St Joseph’s Primary School Merewether by overwhelming majorities were relegated to vice-captains, in a move that has been labelled ‘‘outrageous’’ by some parents.
One parent questioned the school’s commitment to its motto, Live the Truth, stamped across the front of the school crest and worn as part of the uniform.
Another asked why an election was held for the captain positions if the school executive was going to overrule the results and hand-pick the winners.
‘‘It seems a little strange to me to hold an election and then decide you don’t like the results so ignore them,’’ said one parent, whose child was not involved. ‘‘For me, it’s a question of what message this is sending to the children. It doesn’t appear to be open or transparent.’’
A Maitland-Newcastle Diocese Catholic Schools Office spokeswoman confirmed the final decision was made by principal Michael Doyle, with unanimous support from three senior staff, who make up the school executive.
She denied the decision had anything to do with the fact that both appointed students have a parent who works for Catholic education: ‘‘The ballot alone does not determine the appointment of students in leadership roles ... The decision was not in any way based on students’ family connections or employment.’’
A directive sent to students by Mr Doyle late last year, detailing how the election would run, makes no mention of the principal or school executive having the final say on winners.
The letter states that interested year 5 students should nominate and submit a profile of themselves. Year 5 students and staff then voted to elect a 10-member school council.
Successful students’ profiles were then distributed from year 2 to year 5 and teachers were asked to discuss, in class, the ‘‘qualities of good leaders and the voting process’’.
A ‘‘special school assembly’’ was held the next week where the 10 students gave a speech.
‘‘The school staff and years 2-5 will vote for school captains and vice-captains immediately following the speeches,’’ Mr Doyle wrote. ‘‘The above is an outline of the process we will use to decide the election of the school council and captains for 2014.’’
Despite this advice to parents and students, the spokeswoman said the final decision on the selection of all school leadership roles rested with Mr Doyle, in consultation with the school executive.
‘‘The Catholic Schools Office does however acknowledge that this process, including the school executive’s involvement in the final decision on appointments, could have been made clearer in Mr Doyle’s communication to parents,’’ she said. ‘‘The appointment of students to leadership roles has followed the same process since it was introduced in 2011.’’
Catholic Schools Office assistant director Bernadette Myors and director Ray Collins both reviewed the matter and were satisfied with the appointment process.
Following a complaint about Mr Doyle’s actions by one of the parents, a professional standards investigation into the captaincy controversy was ordered to be carried out in February by the diocese’s Zimmerman Services.
The spokeswoman said the findings were given to the parent on Wednesday, a day after the Herald contacted the diocese about the matter.
‘‘The complainant made a number of allegations against Mr Doyle,’’ she said. ‘‘The findings of the investigation have yesterday been conveyed to the complainant by the Bishop of Maitland-Newcastle. Within these findings, Mr Doyle has been cleared of all allegations.’’
She said the ongoing dispute stemmed from the complainant’s ‘‘refusal to accept that process as described by Mr Doyle is legitimate’’.
The parent who made the complaint declined to comment this week.