Onus out of gates
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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