Onus out of gates

Herald on Sunday - - EDITORIAL -

Par­ents in­stinc­tively pro­tect their chil­dren from harm. The as­sault by Auck­land mum Ni­cola-Jane Jenks on a teenage girl who had bul­lied her daugh­ter for two years is un­der­stand­able, though mis­taken.

Jenks, the Auck­land Dis­trict Court heard, had wit­nessed dis­tress­ing changes in her daugh­ter as the bul­ly­ing took its toll. The girl’s hair thinned, she ex­pe­ri­enced panic at­tacks and her school at­ten­dance fell.

On the day last May when her fright­ened daugh­ter rang, Jenks went af­ter the teenager who had made her daugh­ter’s life so mis­er­able.

The girl swore at Jenks, who then grabbed the teen’s hair and struck her with an open hand, caus­ing bruis­ing to the girl’s cheek and scalp.

Her im­pul­sive re­ac­tion was, as Judge Tony Fitzger­ald re­marked, a bad de­ci­sion made un­der cir­cum­stances which would have tested any par­ent.

Jenks, who had no pre­vi­ous con­vic­tions, ad­mit­ted the as­sault, un­der­took coun­selling and of­fered to be part of a restora­tive jus­tice pro­gramme.

The judge de­scribed her re­morse as gen­uine and dis­charged her with­out con­vic­tion, not­ing that the con­se­quences of a crim­i­nal record would have been out of pro­por­tion to the of­fend­ing.

It was an ap­pro­pri­ate con­clu­sion to the in­ci­dent, which should never have oc­curred if ac­tion to ad­dress the bul­ly­ing had been taken much ear­lier.

The school the girls at­tended said the be­hav­iour oc­curred out­side its grounds and it was un­aware of bul­ly­ing dur­ing school time. The cir­cum­stances of this case ap­pear to fall in a grey area. School re­spon­si­bil­ity ought to ex­tend be­yond the gate when the well­be­ing and per­for­mance of a stu­dent slips. The girl’s fall­ing at­ten­dance should have prompted some re­sponse be­fore mat­ters es­ca­lated to the as­sault.

The les­son is that schools need to ac­knowl­edge they must some­times re­spond to be­hav­iour off their prop­erty. Par­ents need to know they can raise mat­ters with schools and an­tic­i­pate changes. And they should re­frain from tak­ing the law into their own hands, how­ever hard it may seem.

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