Sunday, December 9, 2012

Do students have Rights in Belize.

 Posted December, 9th, 2012

The question is do schools have a right to interfere with the constitutional right of privacy for a student, regardless if there is a moral disagreement. This was at the heart of the problem when it was reported that the Pallotti High School had expelled a student in the Amandala  newspaper on 30th, January.  2009. The amandala reported the news this way:

Amandala is reliably informed that the student had already had a suspension prior to last December’s incident, when she was allegedly confronted on campus by a woman over a relationship with her husband (with whom she has 7 children). If the allegations are true, it would amount to a violation of Pallotti’s school rules, which stipulate that students are not even supposed to have boyfriends. After the incident, the student was suspended—making a second suspension. Under school rules, two suspensions equal an automatic expulsion....source(
Television reports previous to this on 28th January of 2009 was that  a student had to get an injunction so that she could return to school. The issue as reported by channel five was the following:

a student’s family has taken the administration of the all-girls Pallotti High School to court. The matter began in December when a fourth form student was expelled from the school for breaking a rule which pertains to spiritual life. Unhappy with the administration’s decision, the teen’s parents hired a lawyer and took the matter the court.
See link for full story....

The result of the parent standing up for the right of their  daughter right to an education and getting an injunction was a teacher strike on January 29th, 2009. The order called for the following:

the order specifically states that the defendants, meaning Pallotti High School, the principal and the board of governors are not in any time to prevent the claimant from attending Pallotti High School in uniform and in particular not to prevent her from attending regular studies and classes or be prevented in any form or fashion the claimant from attending her exams and any regular classes. So when they go on strike they’re in contempt of this order...

What this case points out is that many schools have school rules that are unconstitutional. The lawyer Audrey Matura shepherd explains in her channel five interview the following:

 “The very school I was dealing with again lately, they have a rule that says if they suspect a child is pregnant, they can take the child to a doctor of their choice and the child will be accompanied but two teachers—not the parents—and the parent is to pay the bill but cant be present. And if it is proven that the child is pregnant, that child will be expelled immediately. But if the child refuses, that by itself constitutes a ground to be expelled immediately. Now that is totally unconstitutional. The constitution protects the right to privacy so they have to respect that person’s privacy.”

The Ministry of Education on 2nd February, 2009 responded to the Pallotti High School student being expelled and before the courts in the following way in a channel seven news story through a release:

 ..."the Ministry of Education takes very seriously that discipline in our schools must be fair and just to all parties concerned and must be consistent with the constitution of Belize. The role of the Ministry of Education is (to) ensure that schools provide an environment that is nurturing for all students but on the other hand ensure that the rights of the individual student are protected.” The release said the Ministry would not comment further as the case is before the courts. source:(

In this case, the door is open for other students to challenge unjust school rules and bring social change to the system. Time will tell if this becomes a reality.

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