Chief Ombudsman finds school board's decision to exclude student unreasonable
The Chief Ombudsman has found that a school board’s decision to exclude a student was unreasonable despite the fact the incident in question met the statutory test for gross misconduct.
The student was initially suspended for bringing alcohol to school and sharing it with another student. Prior to this incident, there had been various concerns about the student’s behaviour including swearing, being disruptive and unexplained absences.
As required by law, the board met to consider the suspension before excluding the student from school.
While the Ombudsman was satisfied that the board could consider the incident amounted to ‘gross misconduct’, he was not satisfied that the board took all the circumstances relevant to the suspension into account in its decision to exclude the student, nor did the board give proper consideration to three alternative disciplinary options that the Education and Training Act 2020 provides to boards when considering disciplinary action.
Overall, while the finding of gross misconduct was justified, Peter Boshier considered that the board omitted to consider the wider context of the student’s behaviour and did not consider whether there was more that the board could have done to support the student.
Mr Boshier also considered that the board acted contrary to law when it removed the student from the register before they were enrolled at another school, and that the board did not properly respond to the parents’ complaint about this issue.
He also considered that some of the board chair’s comments and questions during the suspension hearing were not relevant to the suspension and were disrespectful.
The Ombudsman formed the final opinion that the board’s decision to exclude the student was unreasonable, the board chair’s conduct was unreasonable, the board acted contrary to law when it removed the student from the roll, and the board’s response to the parents about the roll issue was unreasonable.
The board accepted and implemented all of the Ombudsman’s recommendations.