Macleans College expulsion: school boards may seek help with disciplinary decisions, ombudsman says
Chief Ombudsman Peter Boshier, whose office is tasked with investigating public sector agencies such as public schools. Photo / File
Chief ombudsman wants school boards to seek advice from his office if they don’t know how to discipline a student – instead of taking the ‘nuclear option’ of expulsion or exclusion and having to walk back later.
The Herald reported today that the ombudsman asked a prestigious Auckland school to apologize for making the wrong choice in expelling a student two years ago.
The case has divided readers, with some supporting the student and others wondering how schools can enforce standards if they can be overturned on disciplinary matters.
Chief Ombudsman Peter Boshier told the Herald his conclusion – more details which his office has now published online – must serve as a message to other schools.
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Every decision made could change the life of this student and his whānau, he said. “It can have a profound influence on their entire destiny.”
The Ombudsman’s office is independent and has the power to investigate complaints about public sector agencies, including public and state-integrated schools.
Unlike a court, its findings are not binding, but they are almost always implemented.
Boshier said his office was there to ensure that the correct processes were followed and that the result was proportionate to the offense.
He declined to comment further on the case, in which he said the school was wrong to view the student’s actions as serious misconduct – preferring instead to leave its conclusion.
But he explained what a proportionate response might look like, giving the example of physical violence, such as punching. It could objectively be deemed dangerous and offensive – in which case he believed it would require a high level disciplinary response.
In the case of Macleans College, there had been foul language from the student, but no suggestion of physical abuse.
Schools could still have rules – Boshier was not interested in influencing issues like detentions.
But at the level of disciplinary hearings, schools were subject to the law. A school “is not free to impose its own idiosyncratic view of the standards it insists on,” he said.
“Otherwise you would have very different standards and responses across the country, and it’s not civilized,” he said.
“If I can’t fault the way a school board did something, I might not personally agree with the particular decision they make, but if it’s not out of reach, it’s up to them to decide, I’m not trying to criticize him.
“If, on the other hand, they went through a flawless process and suddenly there is an end result where I don’t see how they got to where they got – where they went for the nuclear option – I will find that lack .”
I would much prefer the ombudsman to be there to help me … than to be called after it is too late when the damage could have been done.
Boshier sympathized with the boards, many of which were parent volunteers, new to the role and trying to manage a very technical process. Discipline could be “horribly difficult” and some parents were very demanding.
He asked them to seek help before, not after making a difficult decision. His office now has 160 employees, with many highly trained investigators, some of whom had training in teaching. If a decision was urgent, it could be sorted and processed quickly.
“For example, if a school suspends a person and says you have a week to tell us why you shouldn’t be kicked out and that person comes to us immediately, we are able to act on time. not like you’re queued up and treated months later, ”he said.
“I would much prefer the ombudsman to be there to help in a practical interventionist sense, rather than being called in after it is too late when the damage could have been done.”
The context: a student expelled after an altercation on the iPad
Macleans College, a prestigious decile 9 public school in Bucklands Beach, kicked out the 17-year-old after telling a head teacher to “f *** off” and “don’t touch my shit” during a heated argument on whether to be on his iPad, which he uses as a learning aid.
Speaking to the Herald, the school principal called the incident a “verbal assault” in a manner unprecedented in his time at the school.
The school board decided that his behavior amounted to serious misconduct and expelled him.
The pupil’s parents lodged a complaint with the mediator, who this year ruled that the council was wrong and that the boy’s behavior did not constitute serious misconduct.
He also found – and Macleans’ board had already agreed after an internal review – that the disciplinary hearing process was flawed.
The ombudsman recommended that the school apologize and the principal and board chair have since written a letter of apology to the boy and his family.