In a verdict whose twisted and bizarre reasoning surprised no one, the Convolutional Court yesterday ruled that the punishments meted out by schools against students who refused to wear school uniforms were permissible.
The Court decided that exclusion from classes, public humiliation, retaliation against parents and physical assaults did not constitute a violation of the convolutional rights to freedom of expression, freedom from torture, freedom from arbitrary and illegal punishment and the right to an education.
The case had arisen following protests by Absolutely Atrocious Students, a group of secondary school students campaigning for educational reform. The group has held repeated rallies, which, among other issues, have highlighted cases of abuse against children by teachers which have been condoned by the educational authorities. The group has decried the failure of the Ministry of Education to take action against abusers, even after it was admitted that the abuses did violate Ministry regulations.
Absolutely Atrocious Students did not, however, file any case with the Convolutional Court. The Court was in fact hearing a petition by the Positively Perfect Teachers group, a previously unknown organization claiming to speak for the vast majority of correctly-thinking teachers in the country. This raises the question of how the Convolutional Court came to be hearing the case in the first place.
In its written verdict, the Court first tried to deal with this issue by establishing the standing of the petitioner, or the right of Positively Perfect Teachers to go straight to the Convolutional Court. This had been questioned by legal scholars, since petitions to the Court must come from an official body, such as Parliament, or arise from an ongoing prosecution. It was a mystery as to how a petition from an unfamiliar group could get onto the Court’s docket out of the blue in this way.
The Court’s attempt to explain this started with a declaration that Absolutely Atrocious Students had no standing in the case because they had been very, very naughty children. But since the students had never petitioned the Court in the first place, and never claimed any standing, this point seems completely irrelevant and nothing more than a way of muddying the waters and evading the entire issue.
According to Court documents, the Positively Perfect Teachers’ petition claimed a violation of the convolutional right of teachers throughout the country not to have their feelings hurt. This right, which human rights lawyers have been unable to identify, had been wantonly and repeatedly violated by Absolutely Atrocious Students and their accomplices, co-conspirators and accessories in crime.
The Court noted that the 2008 Student Uniforms Act and the 2008 Ministry of Education Regulation on Students Uniform do permit schools to punish students for not wearing uniforms. The 2005 Rule of the Ministry of Education on Penalisation of Pupils and Students also states that punishment may take the form of warnings, parole, conduct points deductions and behaviour adjustment activities.
The Court noted that since these rules came into force, there have been countless media reports, supported by documentary and video-recorded evidence, of schools inflicting other more severe punishments. There have been, on the other hand, few if any reports of the Ministry of Education taking any action, or even issuing statements, to indicate that these punishments were in any way improper.
It was therefore the opinion of the Court that these other punishments, although not explicitly allowed by regulation, were permitted in practice, and were thus a matter of interpretation. The Court gave the example of a student who had been physically struck by a teacher; this, the Court argued, could be interpreted as a ‘warning in physical terms.’ Similarly, sending students home and refusing them access to classes unless they wore a uniform, could be interpreted as ‘behaviour adjustment by means of exclusion.’
The Court expressed sympathy with the Positively Perfect Teachers in their plea for understanding. Their work is onerous, their responsibilities are heavy, and they are so overburdened with bureaucratic form-filling that they have no time to read Ministerial rules and regulations.
So when some stroppy sod turns up at the school gate in a Prachatai t-shirt, it is only natural for the teacher on duty to instil a proper sense of discipline by publicly clouting him round the ear-hole, summarily sending him home and telling him that his parents must be ignorant pieces of shit.
The efforts of Absolutely Atrocious Students to document such incidents, however, were entirely without legal justification, according to the Court. Even if their rights were being violated, as they supposedly claim, this does not give them permission to go round moaning about it or asking for legal remedy. This only upsets society.
The correct behaviour for human rights victims in this country (and an amicus curiae brief from the National Human Rights Commission confirmed this) is either to keep quiet about it, or to make discreet approaches to the proper authorities, without alerting the media, and wait for the issue to be forgotten.
Finally, the Court’s verdict made note of the yellow shirts that the Positively Perfect Teacher representatives wore to court. This was, in the Court’s words, ‘very brave, very brave, very good, thank you.’