School apologises to expelled student

Macleans College expelled a student on the basis of gross misconduct. Times file photo Wayne Martin

Macleans College has been directed by the Chief Ombudsman to apologise to a student the school expelled for swearing at a teacher.

The Ombudsman, in a finding issued in May, says the Macleans board decision to expel the unnamed student on the basis of gross misconduct was not justified.

The student had been expelled after telling a teacher to “f*** off” in an argument over an iPad, according to one media report. The school was approached for comment.

The student was expelled after an incident at the college in September 2019.

The Chief Ombudsman Peter Boshier found the family was not given the full opportunity to respond to the allegation, and the board of trustees’ minutes did not show how the decision was arrived at.

He found the board acted unreasonably. He recommended the board apologise to the student and family and amend its records to confirm the student should not have been expelled.

The incident prompting his suspension and subsequent expulsion was that the student swore at a teacher who tried to take his device away from him. The student was on an Individualised Education Plan and he required the device for his school work.

After the family complained about the process, the board conceded that the family was not provided with all relevant information 48 hours prior to the suspension hearing, as required. In addition, the student had been directed by the school to omit some information when providing his statement of response.

However, the board believed that these two issues would not have changed on its decision. The family also expressed concern that nothing had been done for the student in relation to pastoral care or counselling. The board acknowledged that more could have been done to support the student.

However, the board confirmed its view that the student’s conduct met the statutory threshold of gross misconduct. It said it did not pursue other disciplinary options as the student was not remorseful and it considered that further misconduct was likely.

The Chief Ombudsman investigated whether the board followed a reasonable process in relation to all matters connected to the suspension hearing and whether the decision to expel had been reasonable.

The Chief Ombudsman was ultimately not satisfied that the incident met the threshold for gross misconduct under section 17 of the Education Act.

Boshier noted that the Ministry of Education Guidelines require a high threshold for gross misconduct, and such conduct must be serious enough to justify removing the student from school. The board maintained that the behaviour constituted gross misconduct on the basis of its standards.

In this case, the Chief Ombudsman considered that the board had overstated the harm of the student remaining at the school. The student’s behaviour was not ‘reprehensible to a high degree’.  Boshier accepted that the behaviour required a robust response. However, he considered that there were a large number of alternative actions that the school could have considered.

The Chief Ombudsman recommended that the board apologise to the student and his family and amend the record to show that the student should not have been expelled. In response, the board confirmed that it had complied with the recommendations.