The High Court has quashed the decision of the St. Joseph’s Convent Kingstown (SJCK) to expel a student and the Ministry of Education to transfer her to the Emmanuel High School Mesopotamia (EHSM) in 2013.

In her July 17, 2016 ruling, acting High Court judge, Justice Pearletta E. Lanns, also ordered that the students’ file/record at 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 was not so accorded”.

The SJCK is Government-assisted Catholic school that is run by the Cluny Board of St. Vincent and the Grenadines.

The student, who was later transferred to Thomas Saunders Secondary School, a government-owned institution, has since graduated, her lawyer, Jomo Thomas told iWitness News on Wednesday.

The facts in the case are that in a March 13, 2013 letter, Principal of SJCK, Calma Balcombe informed the student’s mother that her daughter had been suspended for two days because of “disrespect to the teacher”.

The letter said that the student was to return to school on March 18, 2013, and informed the child’s parent that “if you wish to see us we will be available Monday 18th March 2013 at 2:00 p.m.”.

The judge noted that “significantly”, the letter warned that if the student’s disrespect for the teachers continues, she will be dealt with by the “Discipline Committee of the Cluny Board”.

The judge noted that the letter did not elaborate on the reasons for the suspension and did not explain the form of disrespect.

But the court said that from affidavits submitted, there is no dispute that the student did a test, and on Feb. 11, 2013, teacher Junet Bascombe wrote in the student’s book, “This is extremely untidy”.

The student, at some point, wrote on the same page, underneath the teacher’s comments, “like you kitty cat weh na wash”.

During the hearing, Counsel for the Cluny Board, Duane Daniel, sought to place the local interpretation upon the student’s comments, an interpretation that the court said was “not complimentary of either the student or her teacher”.

On March 8, 2013, the student did another test and Bascombe saw the students’ response to her comment.

The judge said she gleaned from the record too that there was an issue of the student refusing to go to the library when told to so do and her walking of the school compound even though she was told not to leave.

The events apparently triggered the two-day suspension, and the March 18, 2013 meeting culminating in the transfer/expulsion of the student.

The court heard that the student was awarded no marks for the test she did and Thomas viewed this as double jeopardy.

The parent and her daughter met with the Senior Education Officer (SEO) for Secondary School, Asfo Stephens; Principal Balcombe; Vice-Principal of SJCK, Antonette Best-Jardine; Dean of Discipline at SJCK, Silta James, Principal of the St. Joseph’s Convent Marriaqua, Sister Jacintha Wallace; and chair of the Cluny Board.

Dispute about meeting outcome

There is a dispute as to whether the meeting decided that the student would be transferred, as her mother said no such decision was expressed.

The defendants — which included Chief Education Officer Lou-Anne Gilchrist along with Stephens and Balcombe, all in their official capacities, along with the Ministry of Education and the Cluny Board of Management — disagreed with the student’s mother that no decision was taken to expel the student.

The defendants say that that it was decided that the student would be transferred for SJCK and would not return to the school after the end of the term.

No minutes were taken at the meeting.

“However, what is obvious from the affidavits before me, is that the meeting was convened in a most unhealthy climate, with temperaments raging, name calling and accusations that teacher Mrs. Junette Bascombe intentionally targeted the student,” the judge commented.

The parent said that the Senior Education Officer called the student “nail hole” and that the principal “ranted” that she did not want the student “back in my school”.

While the principal could not recall saying these words, it was the utterance of those words by the principal that prompted the student’s parent to begin “shopping around for another school, and to this end, she met and had a conversation” with Andrea Bowman, principal of the Girls High School, but that meeting did not produce the desired result, the judge said.

After the March 18, 2013 meeting, the student return to the SJCK and continued to the end of the academic year.

She was asked to select her classes to take in Form 4.

On July 5, 2013, she received her report book, which stated that she was promoted to Form 4s. However, she was not given a book list.

Instead, she was given a letter (apparently in a sealed envelope) addressed to her mother, but which contained an undated copy of a letter addressed to Mr. [Curtis] Greaves, principal of EHSM.

In the letter, which was signed by the Senior Education Officer on behalf of the Chief Education Officer, Greaves’ was told that “a place at your school has been offered to [the student] with effect from August 2013”.

The letter asked Greaves to extend the necessary courtesies to have the student registered at EHSM, adding that she should be placed in Form 4.

But the student’s mother was aggrieved, saying it was the first time she was learning that her daughter was being transferred/expelled from SJCK and offered a place at EHSM.

The student’s mother took the matter to court and in an ex parte application, Justice Frederick Bruce-Lyle granted the parent leave to apply for judicial review and ordered that the student be returned to school.

On application by Attorney General Judith Jones-Morgan, the offer for the student’s return to SJCK was set aside by a judge.

The parent could not understand the move especially because her daughter’s report book said she was promoted for Form 4s.

The presence of the students sparked protest at SJCK in October 2013. (Internet photo)
The presence of the students sparked protest at SJCK in October 2013. (Internet photo)

Issues

In his submissions on behalf of the girl’s parent, Tomas identified issues of whether the manner in which the defendants made the decision was procedurally improper, that is, whether they had a duty to give reasons for their actions.

Thomas also wanted the court to rule on whether the defendants failed to take relevant factors into account; whether the defendants failed to act proportionally in their decision, and whether the defendants failed to give his client a fair hearing.

But counsel for the Ministry of Education, Kezron Walters and J-Lany Williams, identified the issues as whether the defendants, excluding the Cluny Board, made the decision to transfer the student from SJCK; whether the decision of those defendants to place the student at EHSM was done in breach of natural justice; and whether the claimant has a right to have a say in the school into which her daughter is placed.

But the judge decided that the questions to be determined were, who made the decision, and whether the decision was procedurally and substantively improper.

The judge said she concluded that the defendants and the persons present at the March 18, 2013 meeting made the decision to transfer/expel.

But she also concluded that the decision was procedurally and substantively improper in that the defendants and the persons who were present at the meeting did not act fairly in coming to their decision to transfer the student.

The judge said that the claimant was afforded no, or no sufficient opportunity to make representations pertaining to the decision to transfer and or expel the student from SJCK.

Two possible interpretations

The judge noted an April 5, 2013 letter from the SKCK principal to the Chief Education Officer and said based on its language, it could be interpreted in two ways.

The first interpretation was as a letter by the principal, in that capacity, requesting on behalf of persons present at the March 18, 2013 meeting that the student be transferred to another school. A second interpretation was as a recommendation to the Chief Education Officer by the Principal, on behalf o the persons present at the same meeting or on behalf of the SJCK, that the student be transferred to another school.

“In my opinion, the letter of 5th April 2013 was a recommendation, (akin to an invitation to treat). It was open to the CEO and the SEO to accept or reject the recommendation,” the judge ruled.

The judge further said that the undated letter to Greaves is proof that the SEO accepted the recommendation and began to put the wheels in motion to facilitate the transfer as requested/recommended, “without carrying out any investigations of their own”.

“Then, by requesting that [the student] ‘should’ be transferred, it gives the impression that a decision was already taken at the meeting and the letter was simply asking the CEO to assist in selecting a school. In the circumstances, I have come to the conclusion that the CEO and the SEO and the persons who were present at the 18th March 2013 meeting collaborated and jointly made the decision to transfer/expel the student from the SJCK,” the judge ruled.

Judge’s findings

The judge also found that there was no evidence on record that the child’s parent was told expressly of the purpose of the March 18 meeting.

“In fact, the claimant t was not given any notice that there would be a meeting to discuss the transfer/expulsion of the student,” the judge found.

“The letter contained information about the child’s suspension because of disrespect to a teacher. And it gave [the parent] the option to ‘see us’ at the school at 2:00 p.m. suggesting that a meeting had been planned and was going to be held with or without her attendance,” the judge noted.

She further commented that the student’s parent attended of her own volition, and during the meeting the issue of expulsion/transfer arose.

The judge made 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 hearing by the board to determine the issue of the transfer/expulsion, and be supplied with the relevant information and documentary evidence in advance of the hearing so she/he can adequately prepare himself/herself for such meeting.

She also declared that once the Board has voted for the transfer/expulsion, then it is the chairperson of the Board’s Secretary or the Chairperson’s delegate who should make the requisite request of the Ministry that a student be transferred from the school; that, unless the senior education officer is directly/personally affected, he or she should bot 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 school which is run by a board of management.

The judge also made an order that if the parties cannot agree on costs, they may make brief submissions within 30 days of the date of receipt of sealed copies of her ruling.

4 replies on “High Court quashes Kingstown Convent’s decision to expel student”

  1. Seems like everything in this country is So damn backward, everything is Court, this is a matter that was a no brainier, and should have never left the school gate, if this school can’t handle this behavioral problem by both the teacher and student, what good is your learning institution. However! On the other hand what is the big deal, your guys in Vincy are hypocrites, you have a PM who gives you the perfect finger, calls y’all pokey hole and others in his entourage calling folks bitches n hoes, do u pray tell me what’s the difference, you can’t be God & the Devil at the same time. I hope Vincentian realize that the Great Leader that u guys have in power has the greates influence not only on the youths but also the adults in your country after all look at the bribes and other stuff u all accept in place of your democratic freedom… Give me a break ppl.. Next up is raping of the teacher right in the classroom .., mark my words, worst is yet to come , but for Vincy ppl that’s a small thing… So the leader so the ppl

  2. TeacherFang says:

    Teacherfang says:
    September 30, 2013 at 7:58 PM

    I was wondering how this matter really got to this stage where teachers were walking out of classrooms etc…and while I can’t say for certain, I suspect certain attention-seeking gadfly, had a role in instigating this “jihad” against this 14 year old. What does it say about our society, when grown folks are so mobilized to move heaven and earth just to inflict pain and suffering upon a child for the sake of satisfying some puritanical desire and the need for the limelight.

    What I am curious about is how and why folks are so willing to put jokers like Junior Bacchus on all sorts of committees? Wasn’t Junior Bacchus on some recent committee with the Building and Loan fiasco, representing the shareholders, talking a heap of nonsense? Is he not the President of the Police Co-operative Credit Union? Is he not the President of the Small Business and Micro Finance Co-operative? And here, he is the President of the PTA. And I am almost certain there are more committees and Co-operatives that I am missing. WTF, how many committees and Co-operatives, do one man want to be on? But I digress. Lets stick to this Convent issue and savor the absurd musings of the ubiquitous Junior Bacchus…“We wish to condemn any effort that seeks to undermine the determination of the teachers to instill respect for authority, obedience, honesty, truthfulness and good order,”…once again, let me ask, is Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, a nation of laws? How is the court undermining the determination of teachers? Are teachers words and actions now sacrosanct? WTF! What is so hard in accepting the court rulings and let the kid return to Convent until the issue is resolved? Are we so beholding to our f’ked up value system, that we can turned a blind eye to the epidemic rape and molestation of our females but we are steadfast in our determinations to crucified a 14 year old, guilty of youthful indiscretion? Are we not merciful. I do not condone the actions of this child, she ought to be disciplined. But I have to say in my heart and soul…what the child did, DO NOT DESERVE AN EXPULSION!!…There I said it. A SUSPENSION IS QUITE IN ORDER…AND MANDATORY COUNSELING MAY BE PART OF THE DISCIPLINARY ACTION. And that is the extent of punishment I am willing to hand down to this kid. All this bellyaching by Junior Bacchus and co…is totally unwarranted because, no one is getting away with anything; there is no greater good to be had here for our children;and most importantly, NO TEACHER should be walking out of the classroom in the first place…I can understand if the teacher who was offended, taking a stance in not having the child in her classroom…but any other form of protest by anyone else is an overreaction of the highest order.

    Regardless of the outcome of the case…I stand with this child. This child did not commit murder or put the lives of anyone in danger. Yes, what she wrote to the teacher was disrespectful and deserves punishment but being expelled is too drastic a punishment for the “crime” committed. When we are supposed to be moving heaven and earth to get what we want, we sit in our respective corners and whisper among ourselves…but we can get on our high moral horses for a 14 year old and talk all sorts of nonsense. Where were all the PTAS AND PRINCIPALS ASSOCIATIONS WHEN THE THREE TEACHERS WERE IN DESPERATE NEED OF YOUR UNWAVERING SUPPORT? I didn’t hear about teachers walking out of classrooms and calling in sick in solidarity with their fellow colleagues. Sometimes you have to wonder about the mindset of our people, cause the things we ought to be up in arms about, we are dead silent…but small matters that could easily be dealt with, we put up stern resistance and make a mountain out a mole hill.

  3. TeacherFang says:

    Teacherfang says:
    October 7, 2013 at 10:04 PM

    It was my hope that the kid would find some solace in going back to the school and being among her peers…but I underestimated the level callousness within the PTA and Administrators.

    The heartless heathens have managed to coerced and corrupted the minds of these kids, all for the sake of protecting their ambition and pride. These kids, in their mistaken believe have joined a “jihad” against their fellow student, and thereby becoming pawns in a game of pride and prejudice. These kids, like the teachers before them, should have never been allowed to get so intimately involved in a situation that has absolutely no bearing on their learning or well being at the school. But when those misguided teachers orchestrated the “JIHAD” against the kid…everything else was set in motion.

    I was given the distinct impression, that society protects and shelter its most vulnerable members but having seen the way in which this kid has been made to feel like persona non grate; I am second guessing this perception I have of society, namely our Vincy society. How emotionally distraught must this kid feel, seeing her own fellow students, rallying against her. When you are a kid, you expect other kids to be in your corner, when the adults “just don’t understand.”

    It has now become untenable for the kid to remain at Convent. I was steadfastly defending the kid to stick it out and try to remain at the school. But given that such utter hatred has been allowed to fester and now permeates throughout the school and the wider society, it has become imperative that the kid be immediately withdrawn from the school, if for no other reason, for her personal safety. Its regrettable that this incident between a teacher and a student has escalated to the point of having innocent kids being inserted in the middle of a situation that’s being worked through in a court of law. There is absolutely no reason for these kids to be outside the classroom making a mockery of themselves. The PTA, TEACHERS AND ADMINISTRATORS SHOULD ALL BE ASHAMED OF THEMSELVES FOR USING, NO, ABUSING THESE KIDS FOR THEIR OWN PERSONAL GRATIFICATION AND AMBITION.

  4. TeacherFang says:

    Teacherfang says:
    October 1, 2013 at 6:01 PM

    So even the MOE is moving heaven and earth to teach this kid a lesson, eh…lawd hav mercy. If the court do decide to set aside the order…what next? Is the kid now has to leave Convent immediately in the middle of the school year and drag arse out to Mespo Emmanuel?

    Ah tell all yo..this kid must be the worse thing since Hitler…gwan people…when y’ll old arses going down the road of retribution and can barely hold up..this kid would be in she prime, skipping along to a bright and glorious future. Who knows she might be the first female PM in Vincyland…we never know what the future holds.

    Mother Prium used to say…it wouldn’t always be so…

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