The State is set to pay compensation to a student of a secondary school in east Trinidad, who was slapped by a teacher after he spread a rumour that the teacher had been caught kissing a female student.
The assault and battery lawsuit brought by the student’s mother on his behalf was set to go on trial before High Court Judge Frank Seepersad yesterday morning. However, at the start of the hearing, attorneys for the Office of the Attorney General indicated that it would accept liability on behalf of the State and teacher, who, like the student, cannot be named due to the nature of the allegations.
Attorney Ibo Jones, who represented the AG’s Office, indicated that as he only got approval to settle the case on the eve of the trial, he would have to continue negotiations with the child’s lawyer, Elvin Cudjoe, to determine reasonable compensation for what transpired.
Responding to the decision, Justice Seepersad praised Jones for his handling of the case, as he repeatedly pointed out that his decision was likely to be the same at the end of the trial.
“I was very pleased with the position that the state adopted because it was the position that the court would be inclined to adopt based on the uncontested evidence that is before it,” Justice Seepersad said.
According to the court filings in the case, the incident was alleged to have occurred at the school’s compound in June 2019, while the student was in Form Two.
The student claimed that he was in the process of completing an end of term examination when a teacher, who was invigilating, asked him and his classmates to write down if they had issues with the exam or the subject teacher on a sheet of paper.
The student admitted that he wrote down the rumour of the alleged inappropriate activity between the teacher and a student, as he felt that someone in authority needed to know.
A classmate informed the teacher of what the student wrote and after a brief conversation, he (the student) was sent to the principal’s office.
While at the office, the student was confronted by the teacher, who was apparently informed of what transpired by his colleague.
The teacher demanded that the student disclose any evidence to buttress his allegation and then proceeded to slap him twice.
“This act of violence was carried out in full view of other students who were in that area at the time, which made me feel very ashamed and hurt,” the student said.
Although the principal and teacher both apologised for what transpired to the child and his mother, they still reported the incident to the police and filed the lawsuit.
The AG’s Office did not file any witness statements to challenge the student’s claims as, in its defence, it admitted that the teacher “lost control of himself” after the student was aggressive and disrespectful to him during their brief interaction.
It also noted that having recognised that he was wrong, the teacher attempted to rectify his transgression by calling the student’s mother and telling her what transpired.
Although Justice Seepersad was no longer required to determine the factual and legal issues in the case, he still went on to deliver comments on it, as he noted it raised important issues on corporal punishment in schools.
Justice Seepersad noted that while the Children’s Act allowed parents, guardians and teachers to administer reasonable disciplinary measures on children, it precludes corporal punishment at schools.
“The court, notwithstanding the current alarming levels of dysfunction in the society generally, would not be dissuaded and must always apply the law as it is outlined and in this Republic, corporal punishment within our school system is not permissible under the law,” he said.
“However provoked the second defendant as a teacher may have felt, he as the professional adult ought not to have allowed himself to lose his self-control and react in the manner in which he did. Ultimately, children, regardless of their age, enjoy the same fundamental rights as adults,” he added.
Justice Seepersad noted that while corporal punishment was permitted in the past, its negative impact is now accepted.
“Licks and violence, in the traditional forms that we as a society acknowledged as a means of corrective disciplinary measures, really has to be curtailed. The inescapable reality is that the use of corporal punishment can affect young people in an emotive and psychological level and could lead ultimately to unhealthy lifestyle choices and behaviour,” he said.
Justice Seepersad called on the Ministry of Education to consider establishing a “school violence prevention and response plan” which could be used by teachers and school administrators to legally and safely discipline delinquent students.
He also called for the ministry to establish support systems for teachers to cope with the “unique” challenges of the jobs and with their own conflict resolution issues.
The compensation for the student is to be assessed by a High Court Master if the parties fail to come to an agreement.