For all the oral public discourse, column inches, union sabre rattling, legal disputation, child advocacy, and official pleas for due process to take its course that it might have engendered in recent days, there has been, to date, no decisive confirmation of precisely what happened in the now notorious incident of the alleged battery of a member of the teaching staff by a pupil at Ellerslie School. In consequence, much of what has passed for informed commentary so far is in fact little more than subjective conjecture on the part of the respective asserters.
Of course, there are more than a few for whom the mere identities of the parties suffice to settle the matter beyond reasonable doubt. As far as these individuals are concerned, the physical integrity of a teacher at his or her workplace is inviolable under any circumstance and the notion that there could ever be any justification for a pupil battering a teacher plainly defies rational thought.
This thesis certainly held true in my days at Wesley Hall Primary School. In spite of their taunting threats of legally sanctioned violence by some teachers , the idea of any boy reacting in kind, either in word or by deed, would have amounted to unpardonable heresy. Hence when Mr Davis solemnly promised to “rip out your balls wid a ripping iron…” (referring to the appearance of his leather strap -in those days an indispensable part of the teacher’s pedagogical armoury-), or when our beloved Mr King warned that his “Joe Goat” would “rip up your coat”, it would not have been the done thing to have our parents pursue actions for the torts of assault or the infliction of emotional distress; to respond with our own threats; or to launch a preemptive physical attack on either of them. At my secondary school, the idea of physical retaliation never crossed our minds.
These are different times, however, and a more enlightened society now mostly abhors the notion that violence in the form of corporal punishment is the cure-all for seeming intellectual laziness that may be owed rather to dyslexia, dyscalculia, or some other inherent inability to cope; or even for misbehaviour that might be a result of boredom, disinterest or distraction. Hence, the lobby for the abolition of this form of punishment is growing, a phenomenon that might serve significantly to alienate those who are fearful of leaving the certainty, though dubious utility, of the hoary shores of the old order of things.
An incident such as the one currently alleged at Ellerslie will therefore be used by them either as an argument to justify positively the preservation of the old disciplinary regime, warts and all –See what its removal brings? – or to gainsay the new dispensation as being far too permissive of juvenile anomie- a good flogging.
My views on this matter are too well known to bear repetition, but my central point on the Ellerslie incident is that it has brought to the national consciousness, at least for the first time that I can recall, that violence against teachers in schools in schools may be a current local phenomenon. Of course, from what I have stated earlier, I am not prepared to comment on that particular incident since I am not seized of the facts.
Not that this has [not] proved a hindrance to some who have not been shy to express their views on the matter in public. Nonetheless, my training compels me to believe that the truth, so far as this is discernible on earth, will be arrived at only after sworn testimony from, and cross-examination of, at least both of the parties, the relevant experts, and any eyewitnesses to the incident.
In this light, it is difficult to understand the stance of the teachers’ unions that, without the benefit of such an exercise, nevertheless demand the imposition of the ultimate sanction of expulsion on the alleged offender. They seek to justify this call -akin to that of the spokesmen for the posses in old Westerns that would earnestly advise the captured villain that he would be given “a fair trial” before they hanged him-, on regulation 29 (3)(b) of the Education Regulations 1982.
However, it is submitted that this conclusion may only be arrived after the most cursory and alarmingly inadequate reading of the provision. There is an instruction usually given to all students of law that a provision and a piece of legislation should be read in their entirety if one is to garner the true meaning.
This appears not to have been adhered to in the present case, because while it is true that the sub-sub-regulation does indeed provide expressly –“(b) expel the pupil from school”, this is one only of the two recourses that “may” be available, after an inquiry, to the Board or Committee that has been immediately notified by the principal of the suspension of a pupil by the principal “where any pupil of the of a public school commits any act that causes injury to a teacher or another pupil in the school or where his (or her) conduct is such that his (or her) presence in the school is likely to have a detrimental effect on the discipline of the other pupils of the school…” [Emphasis added].
A close reading of the regulation should have revealed that the principal’s initial suspension of the pupil is exclusively within the discretion of the principal; on such suspension, its immediate notification to the Board or Committee is mandatory; the holding of an inquiry by the Committee is discretionary; and its recourse of further suspension or expulsion on its part is also discretionary.
However, any action that is based on discretion in these circumstances is subject to the requirements of fairness and natural justice. As a result, the preliminary suspension of the pupil by the principal should not occur in the absence of a fair investigation and a procedurally fair determination of the facts of the matter; the Board or Committee should not exact either of the alternative sanctions expressly provided for unless it chooses to hold the inquiry and does so in a fair manner in accordance with the tenets of natural justice.
At this stage, therefore, calls for the expulsion of the pupil involved are arguably both legally premature and much exaggerated.
To be continued…