Magistrate Valdis Foldats declined to record a conviction against a teacher who pleaded guilty to a charge of common assault against a 7-year-old boy whose ears she admitted holding.
The assault resulted in a mark behind the boy’s right ear; the mark was variously described as a scratch, a cut that did not break the skin, a bruise or an abrasion. Senior Crown counsel Candia James submitted a photograph to the court when she provided the background on the offense.
Defense attorney Dennis Brady applied to have no conviction recorded, bringing testimonials about the teacher’s good work from other teachers, her vice principal and a letter to the teacher from the boy himself.
The Cayman Compass is not identifying the teacher as no conviction was recorded.
The incident occurred in a government primary school in April 2016. The boy’s mother reported that he had come home from school with a cut behind his right ear. He told her he had been talking in class and the teacher pulled his ear. He was photographed and examined by a doctor.
School authorities were notified and the teacher was asked for her account. She said the principal was making an announcement over the public address system and she told the class to be quiet so everyone could hear. She then told them to hold onto their ears.
Everyone did as instructed except the one boy. She then asked him to show her his ears but he did not. She held onto his ears and asked if he knew they were for listening. The scratch, which apparently was caused by her fingernail, was not intentional, Ms. James concluded.
The magistrate accepted that holding onto the boy’s ear was intentional, but the scratch was not. Earlier he referred to a teachers handbook, a code of conduct for students and a home-school agreement regarding disciplinary measures. “There is no suggestion in any of them that physical force by a teacher is appropriate,” he noted. “There are options for discipline but they do not include physical force.”
Mr. Brady said the defendant had a reputation for helping students and other teachers. “She was given a tough bunch to deal with and she raised their standard of learning,” he told the court.
The attorney showed a drawing the boy had made in the front of his book. Two figures are sitting at a table and one appears to be the teacher. Above them is a heart. The boy also wrote a letter to the teacher. Mr. Brady suggested it should be interpreted in the way a boy of 7 would use words.
It read: “Dear Miss ___. I like you. You are sexy and hot. I will give you a present. You are nice. Love, (Boy’s name).”
Mr. Brady continued, “We are not seeking to minimize the concerns of a parent who sees a child come home from school with a bruise he did not leave with.
This was not the result she [the teacher] intended …. Her love for children would not allow her to countenance pulling a young man’s ear to cause pain.”
He confirmed that the teacher was initially suspended with pay and later dismissed. He said the authorities were now thinking they should have waited for the court’s disposition of the case. He suggested there was a plan to revisit the matter and place the teacher at another school.
The magistrate asked the Crown’s opinion on not recording a conviction.
Ms. James said she was neutral, but if the court was minded to do so, she was not opposed.
Times have changed
The magistrate commented, “In the past it was absolutely acceptable to use force or hit children. Corporal punishment was the norm. But times have changed. In some circumstances, it can be criminal behavior.”
Nowadays it is a core principle that discipline is to be administered in a way that fosters students’ emotional and intellectual development, he summarized. “To be a teacher in the modern age must be exceptionally difficult,” he said.
It takes exceptional individuals to maintain discipline without use of force, he added, and the teachers who do so deserve praise.
Students sometimes refuse to follow instructions, they answer back and even swear at a teacher, the magistrate commented.
The teacher is expected to deal with the situation tactfully, with tools such as detention or isolation. The only reason the magistrate could think of for laying hands on a student would be if students were fighting and physical intervention was required before someone got hurt.
The case before him demonstrated the danger of using force, given its unintended result. Obviously, it was not a prolonged or planned incident, he said. The defendant had already been prosecuted and suffered the embarrassment of appearing in court. She had lost her job and her future was uncertain.
He concluded that she did not need further punishment and he discharged her absolutely.
A charge of cruelty to a child was withdrawn by the Crown.