Principal fined for assaulting six students

A school Principal from Upolu has been convicted and fined $200 for caning six students with a hose as punishment for posting pictures of themselves on Facebook

The school Principal for Palalaua Secondary School, Leoloa Tuuu Mautofiga of Siumu and Matautu Falealili, was fined last month by Judge Loau Donald Kerslake.

The mother-of-seven had pleaded guilty to one count of causing actual bodily harm and five charges of assault on six students from Papalaua Secondary School.

The 49-year-old Principal was accused of assaulting six different students including one who is not from the same school for breaking school rules by posting pictures of them on Facebook while wearing their uniforms.

Leoloa proceeded to punish the students and proceeded to strike them by using a short hose.

One of the students received the most severe punishment and was struck several times on different parts of his body.

The other five were each struck once on their buttock.

The Principal was later charged with one count of causing actual bodily harm and five counts for assaulting the students she had struck on the buttocks. 

Represented by lawyer Leilani Tamati, The principal had asked for a discharge without conviction.

She noted the accused had apologised and reconciled with the victims and their families as evidence in her affidavit.

Judge Loau denied the application for a discharge.

He said aggravating features of the offending included causing actual bodily harm at the mid-range.

“It is unnecessary for me to decide whether to exercise any statutory discretion to grant a discharge without conviction in relation to the charges before the Court,” said Judge Loau.

In his discussion, the District Court Judge referred to a provision in the Infants Ordinance 1961 that gives the right to a parent or teacher or another person in lawful control of them to administer reasonable punishment to a child under 18.

He said when considering the question of reasonable punishment in a teacher-student scenario, the Infants Ordinance 1961 should be read and interpreted in light of the definition of corporal punishment in the Education Act 2009. 

“It is undisputed that an object [a hose] was used by the accused when committing the offences on the victims,” he said. 

“In essence, the mere use of an object in inflicting punishment on the victims immediately disqualifies her actions as falling within the [definition] of “reasonable force.

“In other words, her actions were clearly unlawful and in breach of section 23 of the Education Act 2009 and therefore cannot be classified as ‘corporal punishment’ permissible by law.”

Judge Loau added that it was unnecessary in his decision to canvass the different scenarios in which an assault by a teacher on a student may be qualified as “reasonable”. 

“That is a matter best left to be argued another day,” he said.

In sentencing the principal, Judge Loau said a custodial sentence was not appropriate. 

“This is an unfortunate incident where anger got the better of the accused and as a result, she will now have to suffer the consequences,” he said.

He then convicted Leoloa and ordered her to come up for sentence within six months for the five counts of assault in the amount of court costs of $200 tala.

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