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Officials breached duty of procedural fairness – Judge

Officials breached duty of procedural fairness – Judge

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When education officials and the board of management of the St Joseph’s Convent Kingstown (SJCK) decided to expel a student in 2013, they breached their duty of procedural fairness.

Education officials say the child was transferred from the SJCK to the Emmanuel High School Mesopotamia (EHSM) 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.

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 finished her secondary education at the Thomas Saunders Secondary School in Kingstown.{{more}}

In a judgement handed down on July 19, 2016, High Court judge Pearletta E Lanns said there was “indeed a breach of the principles of natural justice in coming to the decision to transfer and expel the student from the SJCK…”

“I am satisfied that the Claimant has shown that her right to be heard or to a fair hearing had been infringed. Not only did the Defendants fail to give the Claimant notice of the meeting to transfer/expel the student from the SJCK, so that she could adequately prepare herself, but they failed to give her reasons for the decision to transfer/expel. Even if the Defendants had no duty to give reasons (as the Defendants have submitted), this did not affect their duty to act fairly. In coming to their decision to transfer/expel, the Defendants took irrelevant factors into account, and failed to consider relevant factors. As a consequence of the Defendants’ failure to consider relevant factors, the student was met with punishment that was excessive and disproportionate, having regard to the purported conduct of the student, and the sanctions for such conduct specified in the Handbook.”

The claimant in the matter is the mother of the schoolgirl, while the defendants are the chief education officer; the senior education officer – Secondary Schools; the principal, St Joseph’s Convent Kingstown; the Ministry of Education and the Cluny Board of Management.

Justice Lanns, in her judgement, made five orders and declarations.

(1) A declaration that the Defendants breached their duty of procedural fairness in coming to their decision to transfer/expel the student from the SJCK.

(2) An order that the file/record of [the student] at the SJCK reflect that she was entitled to be accorded a fair hearing by the Cluny Board on the issue of her transfer/expulsion from the SJCK; and that she was not so accorded.

(3) A declaration that a recommendation for a student to be transferred/expelled from the SJCK should be made by the dean of the Disciplinary Committee of the school; that the parent/guardian of the child involved should be given notice of such recommendation after having met with the child’s parent/guardian and the child; that the parent/guardian be also given reasonable notice of the date of the hearing by the Board to determine the issue of the transfer/expulsion, and be supplied with relevant information and documentary evidence in advance of the hearing so she/he can adequately prepare himself/herself for such meeting; that once the Board has voted for the transfer/expulsion, then it is the Chairperson or Board’s Secretary or the Chairperson’s delegate who should make the requisite request of the Ministry for alternative placement, as opposed to a recommendation or a request of the Ministry that a student be transferred from the school; that unless the SEO is directly/personally affected, he or she should not be present at a hearing to determine whether or not a student should be transferred or expelled from the SJCK or other government assisted secondary schools which are run by a Board of Management.

(4) An order quashing the decision of the Defendants to transfer the student from the SJCK to the Emmanuel High School Mesopotamia (EHSM), and expelling the student from both Convent High Schools administered by the Cluny Board of St Vincent and the Grenadines.

(5) An order that if the parties cannot agree on costs, they may make brief submissions within 30 days of the date of receipt of a sealed copy of this decision.

The claimant was represented in the matter by Jomo Sanga Thomas, while the Ministry of Education officials and the SJCK were represented by Attorney General Judith Jones-Morgan, and with her Cerepha Harper-Joseph, Kezron Walters, J-Lany Williams. The Cluny Board of Management was represented by Duane Daniel.

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