Police Minister laments “reasonable force" abuse

A Government Minister has spoken out against its policy of allowing corporal punishment in schools without guidelines for what constitutes “reasonable force". 

The Minister of Police and Corrections, Tialavea Tionisio Hunt, has called on the Ministry of Education Sports and Culture [MESC] to set guidelines for teachers on what counts as using reasonable force when dispensing punishment to pupils. 

At the same time, the Minister issued a stern warning to teachers not to abuse a “reasonable force” law enacted to allow them to physically discipline students when they get into fights. 

“There should be policies and guidelines outlining what the teachers can and can’t do. At the same time, there should be training conducted across the country for teachers on this specific matter,” Tialavea said. 

“They need to change their mindset on how to discipline students.” 

The Minister’s comments follow the sentencing of a school Principal, Leoloa Tuuu Mautofiga, who was convicted and fined $200 for caning six students with the length of a hose.

The children were beaten as punishment for posting pictures of themselves on Facebook. 

The school principal of Palalaua Secondary School at Siumu and Matautu Falealili was accused of assaulting six different students including one who is not from the same school.

According to Tialavea, canning students was part of the curriculum in the past, and spoke of his own experiences being subject to corporal punishment in school

“However, with time, canning students is a thing of the past. It’s illegal and it is against the law, and teachers must abide by the law. We don’t tolerate these types of illegal activities,” he said.

The Minister said that when he was caned by his teacher and if his parents found out about it, he would be beaten a second time. 

“My mother [would] not ask why I was beaten,” he said. “She would just beat me because she knew there has to be a reason the teacher canned me. But times have changed and canning of students is not allowed anymore. The teacher needs to change their mindset.”

Last week the Minister of Education Sports and Culture, Loau Keneti Sio, said teachers are not allowed to physically abuse students.

He emphasised that the use of “reasonable force” in schools to control students is not the same as abuse.

Speaking in an interview with the Samoa Observer, following reports of the conviction and fining of a school principal for canning six students, Loau said teachers know the Ministry of Education Sports and Culture [M.E.S.C.] policy is to not physically abuse students.

"They already know, they [teachers] are not allowed to physically abuse the students," Loau said. 

When sentencing the school principal, Judge Loau Donald Kerslake said that the Government had included a definition for what amounted to reasonable force when it reinstated corporal punishment in 2019. 

"Abuse is different from reasonable force. Reasonable force can be applied when the matter gets out of control,” the Judge 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.”

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