Did expelled Williamsville student get due process?

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

File photo: Minister of Educatoin Dr Nyan Gadsby-Dolly.

AFTER claims that the female student expelled from the Williamsville Secondary School for stabbing another student had been reacting to bullying, questions were raised on Thursday as to whether she had been afforded due process before her expulsion. The girl has since been charged.

Education Minister Dr Nyan Gadsby-Dolly told Thursday’s post-Cabinet news conference at the Diplomatic Centre, St Ann’s, “The provisions of the Education Act are clear. They were followed.”

This act (section 44) empowers a school principal to suspend, for one week, a student whose “gross misconduct may be considered injurious or dangerous to other students” or whose presence could have a detrimental effect on other students. The minister may extend the suspension to allow more inquiries or, after due investigation, she may order the student’s reinstatement, removal to go to another school, or expulsion.” The minister’s order is final, the act says.

On Wednesday, a ministry statement said the student was expelled owing to the heinous nature of the action, “perpetrated even as the student was actively receiving the support of the Student Support Services Division for intervention.”

It said the ministry must maintain a safe school environment, even as suspension and expulsion of students were not desired outcomes.

Tabaquite MP Anita Haynes told Newsday, “What comes to mind is that while we are trying to treat with a very immediate problem, I think the ministry is moving to kind of pacify the public.

“So the idea of this expulsion is meant to be seen by the public as quick, decisive action. But what we are looking for is not a move to appear to be doing something, but to actually be doing something.” She sought short, medium and long-term deliverables.

Haynes said while the expelled girl had been wrong, she was still a child and in need of an education.

“We need to be doing what we can to help both the perpetrator and the victim.

“We cannot abandon them just because they are in the wrong now, because we will create a further problem for ourselves in the future.”

TTUTA president Antonia de Freitas told Newsday expulsion lies within the act as a penalty for student violence. “The act is not new.”

On due process, she said that would have to be identified from whatever ministry staff had done while probing the case.

Beyond any mere “plaster on the sore”, she early urged intervention and support for students displaying signs of problems.

She said ministry professionals must visit schools early on to help students, while lamenting such workers were often overworked and understaffed.

De Freitas said student violence was a part of wider societal problems and it was a “reactive approach” to simply tag it as a school problem.

She hoped for help for the expelled student but wondered about placement in children’s homes after “a recent scenario” (an apparent allusion to the Judith Jones report).

“We should all be willing to sit down and formulate a plan to assist those students.”

National Parent Teachers Association (NPTA) president Kevin David told Newsday his association has major concerns about violence in school. However, the association wondered whether a proper investigation had been done within the given timeframe before the expulsion.

Saying the expelled student was “still a child”, he hoped she would be placed in an environment to learn coping skills and anger management, while continuing her education.

“I hope due process would have taken place. We were hearing talk about bullying taking place, so the question is what measures were put in place after this (that is, report made of bullying)?” He had heard of many parents elsewhere complain of official inaction over reported bullying, which some officials dismiss as a case of “boys will be boys.”

David also hoped someone would look into the root causes of school violence.