Given the significance placed on the compulsory education of minors locally, the suspension of a pupil from school is undeniably a harsh sanction; one that ought, arguably, to be exercised in limited circumstances only and then, only after there has been the exercise of due process in the matter.
The first of these criteria appears to be satisfied by Regulation 29 (1) of the Education Regulations 1982, made under the Education Act, Cap 41. According to this provision –
Where any pupil of a public school commits any act that causes injury to a teacher or another pupil in the school or where his conduct is such that his presence in the school is likely to have a detrimental effect on the discipline of other pupils of the school, the principal may suspend the pupil from the school for a period not exceeding 10 school days.
And while the second is not similarly made express, it should not be considered irrelevant simply because a child is involved or that it occurs in a school environment. Indeed, even if, contrary to basic principles of fairness, we were to treat this desideratum as not being applicable to the first suspension of the pupil, it would nevertheless appear to be stipulated as a sine qua non of any further suspension. Regulation 29 (2)(a) mandates, where relevant –
Where a principal suspends a pupil under paragraph (1) the principal must immediately notify, in writing,
(a) the Board or Committee…
Consequent on this notification, it is further provided –
Where the Board or Committee is notified under paragraph (2), the Board or Committee may inquire into the matter and may as a result of the findings of the inquiry
(a) suspend the pupil for a further period not exceeding 10 school days; or
(b) expel the pupil from that school.
In view of the grave consequences likely to ensue from its decision, we are of the opinion that any such inquiry ought to be held by the Board or Committee and ought to involve an observance of natural justice, thereby construing the first “may” as merely permissive; that is, allowing the Board or Committee to inquire into the matter, and not as absolutely discretionary; or, in other words, as allowing the Board or Committee to decide whether or not to inquire at all, as some might wish to argue.
We comment on this with regard to the story appearing in another section of the press on Friday, under the caption, “Student’s suspension extended” where a father expresses concern over the treatment of his son, who was initially suspended from the Grantley Adams Memorial School, for having “behaved in a manner that is detrimental to the discipline of the school” and subsequently had that suspension extended by the Board of the School, allegedly under Regulation 29, without any prior notice to him. The child’s offence appears to be merely that of holding a sign during the recent student protest at the school, stating “Reasonable Prices” and passing it around to others.
In light of the manner in which the authorities subsequently resolved that matter, the penalty imposed on the student for offering such an opinion in the due
exercise of his freedom of expression seems unreasonably harsh. It is further compounded by the apparent failure of the Board to notify the parent, or even the child, of the inquiry and affording either of them the right to be heard at it.
Further, the attempt to justify the sanction, as claimed by the father, by reference to misconduct that has arguably been long condoned, is seriously offensive to our sense of fair play and the purpose of a modern Barbadian education in general.