The case of the school­boy row­ers


Two St Bede’s school­boy row­ers were al­leged to have breached air­port se­cu­rity in Auck­land by rid­ing on the bag­gage carousel into a se­cure area.

Air­port se­cu­rity and the po­lice in­ves­ti­gated and is­sued each boy with a warn­ing.

The school’s head row­ing coach re­ported the in­ci­dent to the school and in ac­cor­dance with an agree­ment signed by the boys and their par­ents they were dis­ci­plined by be­ing re­moved from the team to com­pete at the Maadi Cup in­ter-school row­ing re­gatta.

The boys’ par­ents ob­tained an in­terim in­junc­tion that al­lowed the boys to com­pete in the re­gatta pending a full hear­ing of the par­ents’ chal­lenge to the dis­ci­plinary ac­tion.

Much has been said on so­cial me­dia about the legal ac­tion taken by the par­ents, but what did the judge ac­tu­ally say in the court’s de­ci­sion?

1. This was an in­terim de­ci­sion and it did not im­ply the school’s ac­tions were in­cor­rect.

2. There was a pos­si­bil­ity that the school had failed to pro­vide proper process.

3. The school de­cided on the dis­ci­plinary out­come based on the re­port of some­one not present at the in­ci­dent.

4. It may not have al­lowed the boys (or par­ents) any op­por­tu­nity to be heard on the al­leged mis­be­haviour.

5. It may not have taken into ac­count all in­for­ma­tion to as­sess whether the pun­ish­ment was pro­por­tion­ate to the al­leged mis­be­haviour, such as the con­se­quences of the dis­ci­plinary ac­tion and its ef­fect on other team mem­bers, par­ents and spon­sors.

6. The grant­ing of the in­junc­tion was to pre­serve the po­si­tion as far as pos­si­ble of the boys, the school and in­no­cent third par­ties.

If an in­junc­tion was not granted the boys could not com­pete and that would have per­ma­nent and fi­nal con­se­quences, whereas other dis­ci­plinary con­se­quences can still be im­posed, if ap­pro­pri­ate, af­ter fur­ther in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

The full facts will not emerge un­til there is a sub­stan­tive hear­ing, but on the limited in­for­ma­tion avail­able, the pos­si­ble faults of the school were ones of process rather than sub­stance.

Get­ting the dis­ci­plinary process right in the ed­u­ca­tion set­ting (just as for em­ploy­ment or pro­fes­sional mat­ters) is the foun­da­tion of up­hold­ing de­ci­sions reached.

The school had to act quickly, be­cause the re­gatta was to start in a cou­ple of days, but ap­peared to have pos­si­bly jumped to a con­clu­sion and skipped the in­ves­ti­ga­tion and re­sponse to the al­le­ga­tions steps.

That left its de­ci­sion vul­ner­a­ble to the par­ents’ chal­lenge.

If the school had given the other wit­nesses, the boys and their par­ents an op­por­tu­nity to have in­put be­fore reach­ing a dis­ci­plinary con­clu­sion and had im­posed a penalty pro­por­tion­ate to the mis­be­haviour, it is far less likely a court would in­ter­vene in the dis­ci­plinary process.

The boys and par­ents had signed an agree­ment that pupils could be sent home if they broke school rules or so­ci­ety’s laws.

In this case the school rules and avi­a­tion laws were very clear.

( Un­like the much- pub­li­cised hair­cut case last year when the school rule was so un­clear no par­ent could in­ter­pret them and en­sure their child com­plied and there was ev­i­dence that the rule had not been bro­ken at all. The pupil’s hair, when tied up, was clear of the col­lar, out of the eyes and of a nat­u­ral colour.)

In the row­ing case, both boys went on to com­pete, but nei­ther was se­lected to go fur­ther at a na­tional level.

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