Know the law

Public secondary school administrators have been encouraged to become au fait with the various laws impacting their work, as ignorance of the law is no excuse.

The advice has come from Registrar of the Supreme Court, Barbara Cooke-Alleyne. Speaking on the topic ‘Education Administrators and the Law’, as she addressed those attending day-two of the Barbados Association of Principals of Public Secondary School Educational Conference at the Barbados Defence Force’s St. Ann’s Fort headquarters, Cooke-Alleyne spoke widely on a number of areas including corporal punishment, suspensions and searching powers, as she sought to outline for the principals and senior teachers present, the dos and don’ts in the school environment.

Touching on the searching powers of principals, she said where they have cause to think that a student may be in possession of intoxicating liquor, illegal drugs, offensive weapons and or stolen articles; they have the power to search the student’s person or property. What’s more, she made it clear that the student cannot refuse the search; her comments came as she offered guidelines for how those searches should be conducted. Cooke-Alleyne, a former magistrate, explained that during such searches another adult must be present and female pupils can only be searched by a female, while a male can be searched by either sex.

“You can’t do it in the classroom with other children there or on the platform in the hall to shame them; it has to be done in a private place such as your office and not in the presence of another student for obvious reasons… You are not to do any internal searches that is for other authorities; they are not going to strip down,” she said.

The Supreme Court Registrar explained that in addition to asking students to empty their pockets, they can pat them down and require them to take off their shoes and socks. She explained that once the search is carried out in a “reasonable and proper manner”, they cannot be sued for it.

“If they obstruct or assault, use insulting language [or] abusive language to a teacher performing a search, if they are under 16 years old it is a fine of $1 000, over 16, $1 000 or six months in jail. So read that part to them as well so they know the consequences of not complying with the search,” she said.

Meanwhile, referring to corporal punishment, she noted while it remains on the statute book for children, there is a thin line between discipline and abuse that principals must mindful if choosing to use it as a form discipline. She made the point while reminding that under the Education Act the principal can inflict corporal punishment or delegate the deputy principal or senior teachers to do so, no other teacher she explained, is allowed to use corporal punishment, though they can instil discipline.

With that in mind, she talked about suspensions, explaining that it can only be used for a period of ten school days at a time, and that stipulation, she maintained, must be followed. Cooke-Alleyne said where students are suspended, it is imperative that the Board of Management of the School, the parents and the Ministry of Education are properly notified. Her comments came as she noted that the Board on reviewing the suspension has the right to extend it for a further ten days if they agree with it, or even propose expulsion. (JRT)

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