Muslim-converted ex-principal of Punchbowl High School was ‘off the rails’ says Education Department

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Chris Griffiths

A NSW Education Department boss has admitted things had “gone off the rails” at Punchbowl Boys High where a newly converted Muslim school principal refused to run a deradicalisation program.

Controversial principal Chris Griffiths and his deputy Joumana Dennaoui have been stood down following serious concerns he was planning to only allow Muslim ­students into the school after he recently converted to the faith.

Mr Griffiths is at the centre of a series of allegations he alienated non-Muslim teachers — including senior female teaching staff — and excluded them from key school events.

Police said relations with Punchbowl Boys High had deteriorated under Mr Griffths’ watch and said there were also “concerns about radicalisation at the school”.

Education Department secretary Mark Scott yesterday told 2GB radio the school had refused to take part in the government-funded School Communities Working Together program — which aims to stamp out anti-social behaviour.

The department intervened shortly after school resumed from the summer holidays and immediate concerns were raised about the lack of “staff unity”, several department policies not being followed and the school becoming “more isolated from the community”.

But Mr Scott said some of the ­allegations made against Mr Griffiths were unsubstantiated, and ­denied suggestions the ousted principal was attempting to create his own Islamic school.

“There’s a suggestion this principal said he was going to turn this into an Islamic school, that’s impossible,” he said. “That’s simply not within his power and not within his right.”

Mr Griffiths declined to comment on the matter from his home in suburban Winston Hills ­yesterday.

Wearing casual clothing he turned back inside the California bungalow-style property after ­noticing The Daily Telegraph and refused to answer the door.

A statement from the Education Department said: “The former principal and deputy principal are still employees of the department and are currently on leave and will not return to the school.”

The two have been replaced by incoming principal Robert Patruno and deputy Suada Bilali.

Mr Patruno is a former head teacher at Punchbowl Boys High School and has also worked with children with behavioural difficulties at the Verona School in ­Fairfield.

His most recent post was as the principal of the Dorchester School at the Reiby Juvenile Justice Centre in Airds, near Campbelltown.

An Education Department spokesman said Mr Patruno was too busy “getting on with the job” to speak to the media yesterday.

But in an interview with the Daily Telegraph last year he spoke about his work at the hardcore maximum security children’s prison, where young boys were stripsearched if pens or pencils went missing from the classroom.

“Some of these kids come from such a dark place that we try to provide some light in their life,” Mr Patruno said.

“They have been exposed to things that no one should be. We develop positive thoughts and ­resilience here — we have set up an environment that is like any classroom.”