I will make bold to say the trade unions of Barbados do not have a greater friend and supporter than David Comissiong. But, when you’re wrong, you are wrong!
And, there can be no doubt the leaders of both the Barbados Secondary Teachers Union (BSTU) and the Barbados Union of Teachers (BUT) are completely wrong in publicly demanding the expulsion of the 14-year-old Ellerslie Secondary student who was involved in a physical altercation with a teacher at her school.
The leaders of the BSTU and BUT are wrong because, under the Laws Of Barbados, a legal process has been established for dealing with cases in which students of public schools are charged with committing serious breaches of discipline (inclusive of acts that cause injury to a teacher), and that legal process must be permitted to run its course without outside pressure, intimidation and threats being brought to bear on the persons and institutions charged with administering the process and adjudicating the matter.
The relevant legal provisions are as follows:
Section 59 of the Education Act, Chapter 41 of the Laws Of Barbados provides that the Minister of Education may make regulations . . . “respecting the discipline of pupils in public educational institutions, including the suspension or expulsion of students therefrom”.
In exercise of this power, in 1982 the Minister of Education made the Education Regulations, 1982.
Section 29 of the said Education Regulations, 1982 provides that
1. Where any pupil of a public school commits any act that causes injury to a teacher or another pupil in the school . . . the headteacher may suspend the pupil from the school for a period not exceeding ten school days.
2. Where a headteacher suspends a pupil under Paragraph (1), the headteacher must immediately notify, in writing, (a) the board or committee (of management of the school), and (b) the parent of the child.
3. Where the board or committee is notified under Paragraph (2), the board or committee may inquire into the matter and may as a result of the findings of the inquiry (a) suspend the pupil for a further period not exceeding five school days, or (b) with the approval of the Minister (of Education), expel the pupil from that school.
So, the process is very clear! Once an incident has occurred and the headteacher has suspended the pupil, it is then up to the board of management of the school to carry out a fair, unbiased and impartial inquiry into the matter, and, on the basis of the findings of said inquiry, determine whether it should request the consent or approval of the Minister of Education to expel the student. The Minister of Education is then required to reflect upon such a request, and to decide whether to grant his approval or not.
And so it is only after this entire process has been gone through and the Minister of Education has made a fair, unbiased and impartial decision to approve the expulsion of the pupil, that the pupil can be lawfully expelled.
Now, I have stressed that the actions and decisions of the board of management and Minister of Education have be characterized by fairness, a lack of bias, and impartiality, simply because this is what the law demands!
Both the board of management of Ellerslie Secondary School and the Minister of Education are subject to the stipulations of the Administrative Justice Act, Chapter 109B of the Laws Of Barbados.
And Section 4 of the said Administrative Justice Act stipulates that the actions and decisions of the board of management and minister must not be marred by:
A failure to satisfy or observe conditions or procedures required by law; A breach of the principles of natural justice; Unreasonable or irregular or improper exercise of discretion;
Abuse of power; Bad faith, improper purposes or irrelevant considerations; Acting on instructions from an unauthorized person; Absence of evidence on which a finding or assumption of fact could reasonably be based.
Thus, when powerful trade union bosses jump ahead of the stipulated legal process, and direct partisan and intimidatory public statements towards persons and entities supposed to adjudicate the process in a fair, unbiased and impartial manner, they are interfering with and subverting the course of justice.
And I can tell you now, as an attorney-at-law, that if –– in the prevailing circumstances –– the Ellerslie Board of Management and Minister Ronald Jones go on to make a decision this pupil should be expelled, such decision would be open to a very serious legal challenge on the ground it was tainted and wrongfully influenced by threats emanating from the two powerful teachers’ trade unions.
What Ms Mary Redman and Mr Pedro Shepherd could have properly and lawfully done is to publicly call for the disciplinary process to be expedited, and for the teacher and her trade union representatives to be active participants in the board of management’s inquiry.
But to go beyond that and actually publicly demand the board and the minister expel the pupil, and threaten them with adverse consequences if they did not adhere to the unions’ wishes, is not only wrong but also subversive of the Laws Of Barbados and of the right of the child to a fair and just disciplinary process.
I would also like to ask Ms Redman and Mr Shepherd to bear in mind that this is by no means the first time there has been a physical altercation between a student and a teacher in the Barbadian public school system. As I have outlined above, our system has structures and procedures in place to deal with such matters, and we should permit those structures and procedures to function, rather than unnecessarily confusing and sensationalizing the issue.
As a friend and defender of both the BSTU and the BUT, I now call upon Ms Redman and Mr Shepherd to be big enough, and mature enough, to acknowledge they have gone down the wrong path
in this matter.
I call upon them to withdraw their expulsion demand, and to temper their language on this matter, lest they do further and unnecessary damage to the image of the two trade unions.
(David A. Comissiong, attorney-at-law, is president of the Clement Payne Movement.)