Legal: "Justice" on tap
Queensland Teachers' Journal, Vol 125 No 5, 10 July 2020, page no.27
An innocent “tap” to the arm of a student from a teacher demonstrating proper behaviour to a class has eventually led to the member defending criminal charges of assault.
Increasingly, teachers are being charged by police, under pressure from angry parents, for minor physical assaults. There is often no rhyme or reason to such allegations, and it is essential that you have the benefit of the QTU’s legal service if this happens to you. Only the QTU’s legal service can be trusted to fully fund matters like this.
In this case, a teacher demonstrated how students in a noisy classroom environment should indicate to others that the teacher wanted their attention. The QTU member stood a student in front of the class and tapped the back of their fingers on the student’s upper arm for the purpose of the demonstration.
The student later presented to the principal, alleging that more serious contact had occurred and presented a reddened upper arm as evidence.
A complaint was made to police and the teacher was called to attend the local police station, facing an assault charge. The member was interviewed by police, charged with assault, fingerprinted and photographed. Numerous court appearances, bail conditions and media attention followed.
Throughout the court proceedings, our lawyers made submissions to police requesting that the matter proceed to the Restorative Justice Program, also known as Justice Mediation.
Police rejected these submissions, as the parents would not agree, claiming that “justice” to the full extent of the law must be served. The matter took nine months to get to court and, finally, no conviction was recorded.
Sadly, once the ball gets rolling on criminal proceedings, suspended registrations and bars to employment with the department follow. Had this member not had the benefit of QTU legal assistance, they would have been forced to spend tens of thousands of dollars to deal with the criminal charges and get back into the classroom.
In our increasingly litigious society, any physical contact (or bodily act or gesture or threats to apply force of any kind) by a teacher to a student can subject those concerned to criminal and disciplinary proceedings, which are stressful and prolonged.
Criminal charges will see a departmental and Queensland College of Teachers’ suspension follow, to be dealt with after the criminal charges. Supply teachers are particularly vulnerable, with the law only requiring that supply teachers are paid for the duration of their contract, with no income after that. A notice of further consideration could be placed on the departmental file, which could prevent further work until the department finalises its investigation.
The support of the Queensland Teachers’ Union during the course of the proceedings was instrumental in achieving a favourable outcome in the circumstances, following a very stressful situation for the teacher concerned.
Members are advised to remain silent if contacted by police (apart from providing their name and address when required to do so) and immediately contact the Queensland Teachers’ Union with a view to obtaining legal assistance.