By CAM LUCADOU-WELLS
AN APPEAL to Pope Francis has failed to help two students who have been expelled from a Catholic primary school after a long-standing feud over alleged mistreatment.
Bang Vu and Nhuong Tran’s children Hoang and Mai were banished from St Anthony’s School in Noble Park on 27 April due to what the Catholic Education Victoria said were threats to the safety and wellbeing of staff and students.
It said the school had “gone above and beyond” to deal with “constant and continual” complaints for five years.
Mr Vu denies making threats but rather persistently campaigned for his children, who he said have been discriminated against by the school over several years.
In this time, two of their children had been denied desks and chairs to work on for several months and instead worked on the floor using a stable table or on a couch, causing them chronic neck and back pain.
Last year, the school called in Child Protection Services over an incident at home but investigators dropped the case the same day.
Mr Vu also cites an incident at school assembly captured on video in 2012.
The Journal has seen the video of Mr Vu’s eldest son Huy, who has since gone to high school, playing a duet during a school assembly after which principal Marg Batt praised Huy’s playing partner at length and ignored Huy.
Mr Vu said around the same time Huy, a bubbly, outgoing boy and junior swimming champion, became withdrawn, depressed, had disturbed sleep and was no longer interested in swimming.
The three children tearfully told the Journal in March of being bullied, watched like owls and given “evil eyes” by senior school staff.
Mr Vu said he and his wife have been effectively barred from the school since 2013 after a failed mediation.
They say they have been banned from speaking to parents or teachers at drop-off and pick-up times, barred from collecting their children from the classroom, or helping in class or on excursions.
Despite language barriers, the Vietnamese refugee family has pleaded for help – to no avail – from the Archdiocese, then-Education Minister Martin Dixon and his department, federal and state MPs and Pope Francis.
Mr Vu said he was reluctant to move his children from the school given they were baptised at the parish, liked their teachers and had friends there.
Their relations with the school first turned sour over a mass protest by an offended Vietnamese community over a student’s Viet Cong flag illustration being displayed in the school foyer, Mr Vu claims.
“Our family is ready to deal with it head on, no back off, no conditions, no compromise,” said Mr Vu who had survived a harrowing escape by boat from Vietnam.
“We raise our voice for other families do not go through like our family experienced in the last three years,” he said.
Since contacting the Journal, the family received a “final warning” letter from parish priest Brian Collins with several requests including to refrain from “destructive, public comments” that bring disrepute to the school and staff.
In the letter, Father Collins stated he’d ceased communication with Mr Vu and Ms Tran because they had threatened him that “blood will be spilled in this school”.
Mr Vu refuted the claim, saying he stated his intention to take the matter outside of the parish and Catholic system was misconstrued and counter-claimed that Father Collins yelled at them and slammed the table.
In a further letter on 20 April, Father Collins said the relationship between the couple and the school community was “no longer workable”.
“You have displayed a distinct lack of respect and trust of the school and the staff, evidenced in your constant and aggressive questioning of decision making and disrespectful engagement with the school in regard to your children’s education.”
Parishioner Giorgio Migliaccio dismisses the priest’s claims against the Vu family.
“I’ve got the utmost respect for Bang, Nhuong and the kids. They’re a lovely family – they’re not aggressive people, not violent.”
Mr Migliaccio said the parish and school had not acted in a Christian fashion, effectively punishing the family’s children.
“I can’t think why the school had let it get to this without Bang getting some sort of resolution.
“I think the whole thing has been terribly handled.”
Catholic Education executive director Stephen Elder said Ms Batt had done as much as she could to resolve the situation.
He did not deny nor comment on the family’s specific alleged complaints.
Mr Elder said the interests of the children were always at the forefront of any discussions and subsequent action, but did not detail how the school supported them.
“However, the situation has now reached a point where the safety and wellbeing of other students and school staff is under threat.”
Mr Elder said the family would be given help to find a nearby school. This “direct assistance” was “in line with Catholic Education’s overall commitment to pastoral care and opportunity for all”.