Opinion

Gayleshni Kumar Case Sets Precedent In Debate Over Discipline In Schools

It could open floodgates to similar challenges by Teachers aggrieved by their dismissal. Ministry of Education must have a solid case on corporal punishment before it terminates a teacher’s contract.
02 Mar 2020 11:24
Gayleshni Kumar Case Sets Precedent In Debate Over Discipline In Schools
Gayleshni Kumar with her family - husband Rohit Kumar and their son Rahil Rakshit Kumar

Opinion:

There are three major takeaways from the Employment Relations Tribunal ruling that a teacher dismissed for allegedly inflicting corporal punishment on students be reinstated.

1) it sets a precedent that could open the floodgates to similar action by aggrieved sacked teachers

2) Ministry of Education must base its case on solid evidence that is admissible in court

3) Our justice system protects the workers’ rights provided that they have grievances that are evidence-based

4) what constitutes corporal punishment.

Precedent

Several teachers have been dismissed by the Ministry of Education for allegedly inflicting corporal punishment on students.

It reflects the ministry’s zero tolerance on the issue. How many of these teachers, in the same shoes as Mrs Kumar, gave up the battle because they cannot be bothered by a protracted legal fight in court and the legal cost?

Mrs Kumar will be reinstated and paid all the wages and benefits she was entitled to since her dismissal in July 2018, about one and a half years of pay. She will be assigned to a school chosen by the ministry and resume her position as a year three teacher.

Ministry of Education

The Mrs Kumar case exposed the defects in the ministry case. The chairperson of the panel that conducted the investigation admitted that their report on the case was inconclusive on the allegation of corporal punishment.

The burden was on the ministry to prove beyond reasonable doubt that Mrs Kumar inflicted corporal punishment. It failed to do that and the tribunal ruled that her dismissal was unlawful.

The ministry must treat every complaint with the same standards raised by the tribunal. There is no room for hearsay. All interviews for personal accounts must be corroborated and documented,

The accused must also be accorded the rules of natural justice. That means she or he must be given the opportunity to respond to allegations.

Justice System

As Mrs Kumar had already alluded to, our justice system is absolutely independent and impartial.

It is interpreting the Employment Relations Act on the way it should be applied. Even by big employers like the Ministry of Education.

Recently a customer officer at the Land Transport Authority was dismissed for allegedly not performing, was reinstated on similar grounds.

These two cases showed that the rights of workers in this country are well protected.

What constitutes Corporal Punishment?

The Mrs Kumar case clearly shows that there seems to a bit of confusion about what corporal punishment constitutes.

It reopens the debate on its definition. If it means the use of violence to discipline.  We generally understand that corporal punishment is when you get whacked with a stick. What about a slap and its degree of force? Some slaps may be more painful than others? What if a teacher publicly ridicules a student in front of the class and the student suffers from emotional distress? What if a teacher verbally abuses a student or students?

This case illustrates that we need to review how we implement the law and use it for its intended purpose to protect students and teachers.
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