Thursday, April 03, 2008

An authoritarian government school in Sydney

A Sydney high school has been accused of intimidating students into having their fingerprints scanned for a new attendance monitoring system, and branding parents who object as "idiots". Parents of students at Ku-ring-gai High School in Sydney's north say their children have been bullied into taking part in a trial of the scheme introduced this week. According to a principal's note sent home with students last Friday, parents were permitted to opt out by sending an "exemption" letter to the school.

Parents told The Australian yesterday their children were told their fingers would be scanned anyway, and data later deleted, only if there were still objections. Alison Page said her daughter in Year 10 and other students who carried exemption letters were told "their parents were idiots for not agreeing". She said they were asked again if they would have the scans. "They were told to go home and tell their parents they were worrying about nothing," she added. Ms Page said her other daughter in Year 12 was among students required to provide finger scans without notice after an English exam on Tuesday. Her daughter had an exemption letter but had not been allowed to take it into the room. "They were not allowed to leave the room until it was done," she said. "They were told it could be deleted later if they didn't want it done."

Parent Chris Gurman said his daughter Alex was also told she could not leave the exam room until her fingerprint was taken. "My daughter was the only one who refused," Mr Gurman said. "She's read 1984. When she refused to co-operate, a teacher let her out of the room." Alex Gurman, 17, said they were told: "'If any of your stupid parents have any worries about this we will talk about it later.' I felt like crying, I felt like I was being forced to do something I didn't want to do, it was very confronting."

The Australian Council for Civil Liberties raised concerns about people being pressured into fingerprint scans, and said they posed dangers to privacy. Council secretary Cameron Murphy said: "This is exactly why the process is unacceptable, because in most cases where this biometric information is collected it is very rarely by consent."

The principal of the creative arts high school, Glenda Aulsebrook, said she was unaware of allegations that students had been forced to accept scans, saying no one was obliged to participate. Ms Aulsebrook denied fingerprints were kept on record, saying only numbers were kept on a database. She said she first became aware of the procedure at a principals' conference where she was shown how it operated.

NSW Education Minister John Della Bosca said a small number of schools had introduced fingerprint scanning with the support of parents, adding it was not a government nor department initiative. "In each case the department has ensured there are strict privacy safeguards and parental consent," Mr Della Bosca said.

NSW Opposition Leader Barry O'Farrell said he was worried parents who wanted to opt out might have been forced to participate. The process had also never been formally announced by Mr Della Bosca nor the Iemma Government, he said. An Education Department spokeswoman said inquiries would be made about the scheme.


More dangerous Royal North Shore hospital errors

Not only did Julia Weston's 12-year-old son wait more than 28 hours to get antibiotics to treat a leg infection, but Sydney's Royal North Shore Hospital mistook him for a five-year-old boy suffering from pneumonia. Ms Weston told an inquiry into NSW's public hospitals headed by Peter Garling SC that after eight days in RNSH last year, her son was running a temperature of 40C and had lost nine kilos. She said she persuaded staff to transfer her son to Westmead Children's Hospital, but when he was discharged from RNSH they were wrongly given the papers of the five-year-old boy suffering from pneumonia.

The inquiry also heard evidence from Jean Edge and Gail Aldenhoven, clinical nurse educators working at RNSH, who said the inadequate English-language skills of some graduate nurses put patients' lives at risk. Ms Edge told the inquiry a third-year nurse had admitted to understanding only 70 per cent of the instructions he was given. "Poor communication with these nurses is a major issue," she said. Another graduate nurse with English as a second language could not comprehend the phrase "the patient is choking", forcing other staff to intervene to save the patient's life, Ms Edge told the inquiry.

Sharon Miskell, the director of medical services at Royal North Shore and Ryde hospitals, told the inquiry that about 95 to 100 per cent of the hospital's beds were occupied. Dr Miskell said that without a greater "buffer zone" of empty beds, the hospital risked a higher mortality rate.

The special inquiry was established in January following a coroner's report on the death of 16-year-old Vanessa Anderson, who died two days after she was admitted to the RNSH with a skull fracture. Public hearings have so far been conducted at hospitals across the state. Mr Garling is to report to NSW Governor Marie Bashir before the end of July.


Green bullying is the last straw

By Andrew Bolt

BORDERS [bookshop] has at last crossed a border of my own - demanding I pay 10 cents for a plastic bag to carry home their books. This senseless green bullying is the last straw. For 10 cents it's lost a customer who's been worth hundreds of dollars a year.

I'm not easily put off by a shop like Borders, you should understand. In this case, I've long tolerated its haphazard stacking of classical CDs and foreign DVDs, its books thoroughly thumbed by its coffee shop customers, and the disengaged, overworked staff, who rarely know much about what they sell.

But my last straw broke last week when I got to the register with another four books for my children, bought on impulse on the way to the movies. "Would you like a plastic bag?" I was asked, in the disapproving tones I've learned to accept from sales staff of a certain age and taste for studs. Why Borders should be so down on a little plastic bag is a mystery, actually, given its business is selling stuff made of murdered trees and plasticised oil.

But, ever placid, I sweetly replied, yes, please - I would indeed like to carry those books in a bag rather than cart them into the cinema in my arms. Not that I said that last bit, of course.

And then I was told Borders now charged 10 cents for each bag. I pointed out that the bag should be given for free as a service to customers kind enough to buy armfuls of the shop's wares. But the sales assistant informed me in tones sanctimonious that this 10 cents was for "the environment" - going to Coastcare, a green group I'd never heard of. As I told her, to the increasing mortification of my 14-year-old son, if I wanted to donate to Coastcare I'd do it myself, and I do not need or want Borders to bully me into it.

As I huffed off with books unbagged, I heard her protest to a colleague that I was wrong to object because the bag levy really was for "the environment". Rubbish. It's for Borders' preening, and a green group's grooming. I've since learned that Borders is far from alone in this green bullying of customers. IKEA does much the same, and Bunnings doesn't even give customers the option of a bag.

Crazy. If plastic bags really were a public menace to rival cigarettes or a Tim Flannery, I could understand such finger-wagging and 10-cent fines. But claims that the bags kill 100,000 animals a year have been completely discredited, and no study can swear they're a big menace to wildlife or even the landscape. Banning or restricting them is purely symbolic, and done at the cost not of retailers but customers.

Enough of this hectoring, moral show-boating and donating with other people's money. It's the principle of the thing: If Borders wants to donate to Coastcare, let it do so with its cash, not mine. And give me my damn bag.

Source. A good reason to order from Amazon. And they use HEAPS of packaging!

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