Friday, 9 June 2017

Parent of ACS (Barker Road) student sues school for confiscating phone

By K.C. Vijayan, Senior Law Correspondent, The Straits Times, 7 Jun 2017

Should a school hang on to a confiscated phone for three months?

This issue has reached the courts after a parent felt that the penalty was too harsh. The parent is suing a secondary school principal for damages, but has not succeeded in getting the school to return the phone.

The parent's request to have the phone returned immediately was turned down by District Judge Clement Julien Tan. The judge ruled that the principal was justified in holding on to the phone, as the school rules had made it clear that any student caught using a phone during school hours will have it confiscated for at least three months.

The boy met the principal on March 21 and admitted that he had used an iPhone 7 during school hours on March 8. It was confiscated and the SIM card returned along with a receipt stating that it could be retrieved in three months' time.

Later in the evening of March 21, the parent wrote to the principal to say that the phone was his and he wanted it back.

He added that "a three-month confiscation is disproportionate to the offence", and his son had assured him that he would not break the rule on phone use again.

Failing to get a reply, he took the principal of the well-known secondary school to court.

The father, represented by lawyer Andrew Hanam, is claiming that retaining the phone amounts to the tort of conversion - which involves denying a person's rights to his property. He asked the court to get the school to return the phone while the case is being decided.

The principal's lawyer Alfonso Ang said that the claim is "frivolous and vexatious", and pointed out that the principal is responsible for overseeing student discipline based on regulations.

He also highlighted that the parent and son had both been told that the use of phones was banned.

District Judge Tan, who heard the application on April 28, said the principal was simply following the rules. He also rejected the parent's contention that he, personally, is not bound by the school rules as there is no contract between him and the principal.

"Such a position is , in my view, untenable," said the judge, in dismissing the application. The parent, he pointed out in judgment grounds obtained by The Straits Times yesterday, knew about the rules on phone use and if he had an issue with it, "could have enrolled his son in another school".

The judge added that the father had not "established any special circumstances in the present case" to enable the interim injunction to succeed. He also pointed out that having the phoned returned early defeats the school's rule.

"I accept that there may be a risk that until the matter is fully and finally disposed of, the school may be faced with demands from parents or guardians for the return of confiscated phones. This may also send a wrong signal to the students that they can use their mobile phones during school hours with impunity, thus rendering the phone rule otiose (ineffective), however temporarily this might be so."

Most schools have strict policy on phone use
Not uncommon for phones to be seized and kept for months when students break rules
By Yuen Sin, The Straits Times, 8 Jun 2017

Most schools here impose strict rules on mobile phone usage in class, given that they can be a major source of distraction, and students may easily misuse phones for other purposes like circulating banned content in class.

If students break these rules, it is not uncommon for their phones to be confiscated.

And yes, they can be kept by the school for a few months. Repeat offenders may even have their phones retained for the remainder of the school year, a check by The Straits Times on 10 schools found.

The issue of mobile phone usage in schools has come under the spotlight after it was reported on Tuesday that a parent had sued the principal of Anglo-Chinese School (Barker Road) for damages after his son's phone was confiscated. The parent had also argued that the mobile phone, which belonged to him, should be returned immediately.

The student's father had said that keeping the phone for three months was "disproportionate" to his son's offence in March of using an iPhone 7 during school hours.

The parent's application for the phone to be returned immediately was dismissed by the judge, who said the principal was simply following the rules. The suit for damages has not concluded.

Sales director Michelle Tan, 48, who has a son in Secondary 3 in the same school, said that she, along with other parents of children in the school, stood by the principal's decision to enforce the rules.

"(It is) an excellent way to minimise distraction and temptation," said Ms Tan, adding that teachers had reminded students of the penalties for offences, which are also listed in the students' handbook.

Mr Lee Keng Siang, 21, who studied in ACS (Barker Road), said he had his phone confiscated by the school on three occasions, each time for three months. But he said that not having access to his phone helped him to focus on school work.

"We accepted the harshness of the punishment if teachers were to catch us using our phones during school hours," said Mr Lee, who is waiting to enter university.

A spokesman for ACS (Barker Road) said the rule has been in place for over 10 years, and has been communicated to all students and parents. "It has served as an effective deterrent against the misuse of handphones," he said, adding that the school is unable to comment further given that the case is pending before the courts.

The Ministry of Education (MOE) said schools are provided with a set of guidelines for managing disciplinary issues and they have the discretion to set their own rules within this set of guidelines.

ST found that schools may confiscate phones for periods that range from a week to a year, depending on whether students are repeat offenders. In some cases, parents must go to the school to collect the phones. These rules are communicated to parents and students on the school website, in letters to parents or at parent-teacher meetings.

For example, St Joseph's Institution states on its website that mobile phones are completely banned from 7.30am to dismissal time, and students who want to take their phones to school have to turn them off and surrender them to the class committee till the end of the day.

At East Spring Secondary, third-time offenders can have their mobile phones retained for the rest of the school year.

While ACS (Barker Road) returned the phone's SIM card to the student, some schools like Yuan Ching Secondary or Bukit View Secondary retain the SIM cards, along with the phones.

Acknowledging that some parents may be concerned about their child's well-being, most schools also have payphones or alternative arrangements for parents who want to contact their children urgently while they are in school, such as calling the school office.

ST understands that most polytechnics and the Institute of Technical Education do not ban the use of phones on campus, though students are discouraged from using them for non-academic purposes in classes.

Parenting coach Jason Ng, 52, said that such confiscations can be "teachable moments" for students.

"Children can learn that they have to bear the consequences of their actions, and avoid repeating the same mistake in the future. They can also appreciate the importance of values like responsibility, respect and self-control."

Additional reporting by Aaron Chan

Parents should not interfere with school discipline

The case in which a parent took a school to court for disciplining his errant son is yet another example of parental interference that seeks to subvert the school's authority (Parent sues school over confiscated mobile phone; June 7).

This parent needs to think about the values he is imparting to his child.

What is to stop this parent from bailing his son out over far worse misdemeanours in future?

As with the judicial system, schools impose harsh penalties for a reason - to not only punish the offender but also to serve as a strong deterrent to others.

Maintaining school discipline is essential for order and a conducive learning environment to be established, and also to ensure that the right values and socially acceptable behaviour are cultivated in students.

Kudos to the courts and District Judge Clement Julien Tan for dismissing the parent's claim as "untenable" and for ruling in favour of the school principal, whose responsibility is to oversee student discipline based on regulations.

I hope it also sends an explicit message that the court's time and resources should not be needlessly wasted this way.

If the parent remains unappeased, there is always the option of enrolling his son in another school or even homeschooling him.

Perhaps, the most prudent course of action would simply be to trust the school's efforts in helping the son learn to take responsibility for his actions.

Marietta Koh (Mrs)
ST Forum, 8 Jun 2017

What kind of values is the boy learning?

I was shocked after reading about the parent who took legal action against a school because it disciplined his son (Parent sues school over confiscated mobile phone; June 7).

Schools are entitled to have their own set of bylaws, rules and standard operating procedures.

The school in question has an explicit rule prohibiting the use of mobile phones during school hours.

Instead of defending the school by chastising his son, the parent takes the school to court over a misdemeanour which his son admitted to committing.

What moral values is the parent imparting to the son, except that if one has the means, it is acceptable to be belligerently disrespectful?

Such a mentality ought to be demolished. Has it not occurred to the father and his legal counsel that this legal pursuit is futile?

Also, if ever such an undeserving case should succeed, such a precedent will serve as a mockery to rules and bylaws.

I am glad District Judge Clement Julien Tan turned down the request for the phone to be returned.

Anthony Ng Seet Boo
ST Forum, 8 Jun 2017

Don't make things tougher for teachers

Having been an active volunteer in my children's schools for the past 10 years, I can understand why the school involved in the mobile phone incident with one of its student had to act and not budge from its stand (Parent sues school over confiscated mobile phone; June 7).

Teachers today have hectic teaching schedules, and their lives are made tougher by parents who set exacting standards for both their children and educators. But the teachers' lesson plans can easily go awry if students in their class misbehave.

It is not uncommon to see it happen. Some students start to distract the class even before the teacher has had a chance to begin teaching.

Perhaps it is their way of trying to stall, in the hope that the bell will sound by the time the teacher starts to get into her lesson.

This is why schools need rules and need these rules to be enforced strictly.

School authorities would have learnt by now that they need some clear rules when it comes to mobile phones and their usage.

They are also smart enough to spell out clearly the punishment for breaking these rules, and these are made known to students and parents at the beginning of the school year.

Respect and honour the rules, and the student gets to enjoy the use of his mobile device at the end of the school day and at home.

But if the student chooses to defy the school's authority and disobey the rules, then no one should be surprised if the student is punished.

The student should then just accept the punishment handed out.

As a parent, I find that I need to put my faith in the school and trust the teachers, the principal and the school system.

I have to believe that the teacher will do her best to engage my children and that she will provide instant feedback if they misbehave.

It is very trying to rein in individual "characters" in each class to get the lesson going.

Rather than get into altercations with teachers, I hope to be able to partner with my children's schools to bring out the best in each of my three children, be it academically or in the area of character building.

I urge more parents to speak up for teachers and schools, and not let these educators lose heart in what they have set forth to do: teach and impart passion for lifelong learning and knowledge acquisition in the future generations of Singaporeans.

Esther Chan (Mrs)
ST Forum, 8 Jun 2017

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