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GHS Headmistress cross-examined during judicial review at the High Court

GHS Headmistress cross-examined  during judicial review at the High Court

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Headmistress of the Girls’ High School (GHS) Andrea Bowman took the witness stand Wednesday, as the judicial review into the transfer of a student from the St Joseph’s Convent Kingstown (SJCK) to the Emmanuel High School Mesopotamia (EHSM) continued at the High Court.

Bowman swore in an affidavit that the claimant, accompanied by her daughter, visited {{more}}the GHS on March 18, 2013, seeking a transfer for the girl from the SJCK to the GHS.

“[The mother] told me the reasons for requesting the transfer, including the fact that her daughter had walked off the school’s compound in spite of being cautioned against so doing. I told [the mother] as far as I was concerned, when a student walks off, she keeps walking,” Bowman’s affidavit read.

During cross-examination, Jomo Thomas, lawyer for the claimant, put it to Bowman that the claimant never told her that her daughter had walked off the compound of the SJCK on March 13, 2013.

Bowman insisted that what she said was true, and that the claimant had even said that the girl left the school and went to the workplace of her aunt.

Thomas then suggested that Bowman’s claim that the child’s posture was “belligerent,” during the time the mother and daughter were at the GHS, was also not true. He questioned whether the child had been rude to Bowman or if she had walked out of the meeting, to which Bowman responded: “The child said nothing to me.”

However, as the Headmistress was explaining what she meant by a “belligerent posture,” Thomas told the court that Bowman’s affidavit was “nothing short of contrivance.”

Presiding judge Pearletta Lanns asked Bowman what made her think the child’s posture was “belligerent.”

Bowman explained that for the duration of the meeting with the child and her mother, the child looked out the window, kept her arms folded and did not respond or even look at her, when she (Bowman) asked her two questions. The Headmistress said she found the girl to have a “tense and angry body posture.”

Thomas countered this by suggesting that any student who is summoned to her office would display similar behavior.

Bowman however denied this, saying that in her years as Headmistress of the GHS, it would be highly unusual for a student to come into her office with her arms folded and refuse to look at her when she spoke.

Thomas also maintained that it is “highly improbable” that a parent, when seeking admission of a child to a school, would admit to the child having walked off a school compound; the child being asked to leave for bad behavior and the child herself exhibiting belligerent behavior.

Bowman agreed it would be unusual, but said in this particular case, it did happen.

“I told her that once a child walks off the school’s compound, she keeps walking,” Bowman stated, adding, “I said to the mother that with this display of ill-discipline, I have no intention of importing ill-discipline into the Girls’ High School.”

Thomas also suggested that the claimant never told Bowman that the child had been transferred. Bowman, however, said that the claimant did and that she advised the claimant that once the child is removed from the SJCK, the Ministry of Education would place her in another school.

During further cross-examination, defence attorney Duane Daniel asked Bowman to qualify what she meant by “leave” when she said that the claimant said the child was asked to leave the SJCK. Bowman said that the claimant told her that as a result of the child’s behaviour at school, the school decided to have the child transferred; that she would leave the school permanently.

Thomas rose to his feet and objected, accusing Bowman of making up the story as she went along.

Daniel asked Bowman what she meant when she told the claimant that once a child walks, she continues walking.

“My saying that, is that in my position as Headmistress of the GHS, if a child is being disciplined and asked to remain in a certain location and the child opts to walk off the school compound; my position is that the child has walked out of the jurisdiction of the school. She is therefore no longer subject to the authority of the school. Therefore she keeps walking in the sense that she would not be allowed to return.

“So, I was explaining to the mother, that given what she said to me, such a child would not be allowed to return to the school. Usually, that would be permanently,” Bowman said, adding that she has the authority to make such a decision.

Earlier in the day, before Bowman took the witness stand, lawyers completed their cross examination of the claimant which they began in March, 2015.

Education officials say the child was transferred from the SJCK for disrespectful behaviour, however the mother said she was never informed that her child had been transferred, and brought legal action against education officials and the school.

In her earlier testimony, the mother said her daughter had been targeted by a particular teacher at the SJCK and was provoked into writing a disrespectful note. Earlier this week, when she returned to the witness stand, the claimant maintained her position that her child did not have a history of disciplinary problems at the SJCK.

“I am putting it to you that you have never acknowledged that your daughter was unruly,” defence attorney Duane Daniel said. The claimant said she did not agree as during the time her daughter attended the SJCK, she conducted herself in an acceptable manner.

“As far as you are concerned, your daughter was reacting to having been targeted?” Daniel further questioned.

“My daughter was never reacting negatively even though she was targeted,” the mother said.

Furthermore, Daniel put it to the claimant that during a meeting with senior education officer Asfo Stephens on July 11, 2013, the fact that the child had been transferred was explained to her, but in defiance, she took her daughter back to SJCK in September, 2013 — the start of the new school year.

The claimant said the child’s report card signed by the principal stated that her daughter was promoted to the fourth form. Daniel, in response, said that even though the child had received her report card, which stated she was promoted to Form 4S, it was just for her academic record.

“I have never received a letter stating my daughter was transferred. I received a letter saying that my daughter was offered a place at the EHSM. An offer is different from a transfer,” the mother responded.

“I am putting it to you that you have no respect for authority,” Daniel stated.

“I respect all, but I am not intimidated by any,” the mother retorted.

“I am putting it you that you are disrespectful and that you inculcated disrespect in your daughter,” the lawyer stated.

“Instead of accepting your daughter’s repeated bad behaviour, you had her believe she was a victim,” he added.

The matter has been adjourned to May 21, 2015 when cross examination of the witnesses is expected to continue.

Attorney General Judith Jones-Morgan represents the Ministry of Education, chief education officer Lou-Anne Gilchrist, principal of the SJCK Calma Balcombe and senior education officer with responsibility for secondary schools Asfo Stephens, all defendants in the matter. Defence counsel Duane Daniel and Rochelle Forde represent the Cluny Board of Management, which has also been named as a defendant. The Cluny Board is a Roman Catholic organization under whose aegis the SJCK is operated.

The Attorney General is being assisted by lawyers Kezron Walters, Jelani Williams, Isis Gonsalves and Serefa Harper.

The claimant is represented by attorney Jomo Thomas.

Although the court made an order on October 7, 2013, that the child attend the EHSM until final settlement of the matter, the teenager never turned up for classes there, but instead attends a co-educational institution in Kingstown, where she is said to be in the fifth form.

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