A court has ordered a primary school teacher to do 60 hours of community service for forcibly dragging an 11-year-old boy with behavioural issues out of class for not following instructions ("Teacher who mistreated boy gets community service"; yesterday).
While the teacher's actions could have been more appropriate, given that the boy suffered from neuro-developmental disorders, the court ruling will likely instil fear in teachers when dealing with insubordinate students.
The teacher may have used force to drag the pupil out of class, but how could this sensibly constitute "criminal force"?
Section 350 of the Penal Code reads: "Whoever intentionally uses force to any person, without that person's consent... knowing it to be likely that by the use of such force he will illegally cause injury, fear or annoyance to the person... is said to use criminal force to that other."
The court seems to have taken a broad interpretation of this provision to find the teacher's act of disciplining the pupil amounting to causing "injury, fear or annoyance".
This interpretation, taken to its extreme, could cover all acts of school discipline where a teacher or discipline master physically handles an errant student in the slightest way.
Clearly, this is not a school culture we want to encourage, where insubordination is condoned and educators live in fear of the students and their parents.
While the law may have decided that educators must take care when disciplining students, such that their acts do not amount to criminal force, what should be discussed is whether educators should be given more discretion to discipline their students, so long as it does not amount to a gross violation of their bodily integrity - for example, slapping, hitting, or throwing projectiles.
Trent Ng Yong En
This article was first published on Nov 22, 2014. Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to straitstimes.com for more stories.