A former teacher says he suffered a mental breakdown after being allocated too many classes of unruly students, whose behaviour included making flame-throwers out of aerosol cans and cracking classmates’ heads open.
Peter Doulis, 47, says he became suicidal after he was made to teach an “unfair” proportion of Werribee Secondary College’s lowest-achieving and most badly behaved students from 2000 to 2004.
He is suing the Victorian government, the operator of the state’s public schools, for negligence and failing to provide a safe workplace.
The Supreme Court heard that in 2000, Werribee Secondary College introduced a “streaming” system for its years 8, 9 and 10 classes, which divided students into five streams – accelerated, high achievers, medium achievers, low achievers and foundation.
John Richards, SC, representing the former teacher, said the school’s management had promised that staff would not be made to teach more than two of the low achievers and foundation classes each term, and that the load would be spread fairly.
But the jury was told that Mr Doulis had been assigned between three and six classes of the bottom two streams for four years.
Mr Doulis believes this was because several events had landed him on the “wrong side” of some of the school’s senior staff who were in charge of timetabling.
In one instance, he said, his relationship soured with soon-to-be assistant principal who had taken him to a topless bar for an after-work drink against his will.
Mr Doulis had also raised alarm after finding a large amount of pornography on the school’s computer sever, and had brought up safety concerns about a year 7 camp that had been organised by a year-level coordinator.
After these events, Mr Doulis said, he felt hostility from the school’s management and senior staff.
The court also heard that the school had provided training sessions on how to teach the accelerated and high-achieving classes, but no training on how to teach the lowest streams.
Mr Doulis told the court his classes included students who had ADHD, autism, dyslexia and acquired brain injuries, while the majority of the other students were very badly behaved. Many students fought each other, broke windows, wrote racist and sexual comments on the whiteboard, made threats towards Mr Doulis, and tore up detention notes in front of him.
The classes were “very difficult to discipline, impossible to teach”, Mr Doulis said.
The jury was told Mr Doulis approached school leaders several times complaining that he was stressed and asked for fewer difficult classes, but his pleas fell on “deaf ears”‘.
Mr Richards said the workload had turned his once active and capable client into a “shell of a man” who was unlikely to work again.
Mr Doulis had been hospitalised three times due to severe “suicidal ideation”. Mr Richards said a psychologist had diagnosed his client with a major depressive illness as a result of overwork and the father-of-two has shown signs of post-traumatic stress and agoraphobia (an anxiety about leaving the house).
Claims for past loss of earnings are estimated by Mr Doulis’ legal team to be about $440,000, while he could be eligible for more than $1 million in future lost wages and superannuation.
Mr Doulis will be cross-examined by counsel representing the state government, Jack Rush, QC, on Tuesday.
The trial before Justice Timothy Ginnane continues.
This article first appeared in Hangzhou Night Net.