The NSW Department of Education is attempting to silence students from speaking out about teacher shortages at Murrumbidgee Regional High School, according to Member for Murray Helen Dalton.
Several students at MRHS had planned to speak out about their concerns at a meeting with Mrs Dalton and The Area News, but that meeting was cancelled after intervention from the school.
A year adviser, under instruction from school principal Peter King, told students via group text message they must not attend the meeting outside of school time.
"Mr King has asked me to get in touch with you and request that you please do not accept invitations to meet with Helen Dalton - our local member - outside of school time," the text reads.
"If she would like to speak to you, he has invited her to come to the school to do so."
The Area News understands that the text message was later followed up verbally by Mr King who told students they must not meet with Mrs Dalton or the media outside of school.
The students cancelled the meeting, and one of them sent Mrs Dalton a text message.
"I'm very sorry but I don't want to get into trouble," the text message read.
Shortly afterwards NSW Department of Education director David Lamb contacted Mrs Dalton and reportedly told her that meeting students outside of school was against protocol.
When asked to provide evidence of such a protocol he supplied the Controversial Issues in Schools Policy, Student Welfare Policy and Code of Conduct, however Mrs Dalton's office insists that none of these policies contains anything forbidding students from meeting with politicians or the media outside of school.
The Area News asked the department of education whether they instructed Peter King to forbid the students from meeting with Mrs Dalton or the media, but they did not respond.
Instead a department spokesperson told The Area News "it is not appropriate to politicise NSW public school students".
Mrs Dalton said the department was attempting to silence the students.
"They're intimidating the students," Mrs Dalton said.
School prefect speaks out
Tom Geddes-Kanety was one of the students who was planning to attend the meeting with Helen Dalton and The Area News before Mr King intervened.
Miss Geddes-Kanety, a Year 12 prefect, said the department's attempts to "silence" her only made her more determined to speak out.
"You didn't want me to talk about it? Now I'm definitely going to talk about it," she said.
Miss Geddes-Kanety and several other student leaders had been trying to rally other students to join the meeting before it was shut down.
She said there was a large groundswell of interest in the student cohort, who had been keen to help campaign for financial incentives for Griffith teachers.
"There's a lot of kids who feel that teachers should get the incentives they deserve," she said.
"We have brilliant teachers at our school, that's not the problem at all, the problem is that we can't get teachers to come and stay here because of the lack of incentives."
However after teachers shut down the meeting she says many students have been scared into silence.
"There's still some conversations happening, but the correspondence has been limited because there's a lot of students who are afraid because they feel they're going to be punished if they speak out," she said.
"They've been put under this impression, which is entirely false because there's no laws in place saying they can't speak out."
Miss Geddes-Kanety is determined to continue speaking out, and she's hoping that other students may soon follow suit.
"Often in this debate we hear from school executives, from the department of education, from some members of the public and Helen Dalton, but you never hear from the students," she said.
"They're the ones who are losing a valuable time for learning because they don't have teachers in front of them who can teach."
Her mum and Murrumbidgee Regional High School P&C vice-president Joy Geddes is also up in arms about her daughter being silenced.
"Tom's very annoyed that someone should tell her that she can't speak," she said.
Mrs Geddes, who was the Griffith High P&C president before the merger, said the parents were "incensed" and the staff were also unhappy.
"The workload is extreme, what they're experiencing," she said.
"Even Superman couldn't do the job that's been allocated to Peter King."