SINGAPORE: One threatened to complain about her daughter having to take supplementary lessons. Another demanded a school apologise for making his son clean the toilet as punishment for misbehaviour. Then there was the verbally abusive type, threatening to sue a teacher over comments in a report book encouraging “more empathy”.
Incidents like these, shared anonymously with Channel NewsAsia by local educators, have been thrown into the spotlight this week after a parent sued the principal of a secondary school, understood to be Anglo-Chinese School (ACS) Barker Road, after his son's iPhone 7 was confiscated back in March as punishment for using it during school hours.
The parent had also claimed the phone was his, and made a legal request for its return before the end of a stipulated three-month confiscation period. This was rejected by a judge who deemed the principal was rightly following school rules.
A former ACS Barker student who later became a teacher there said the school has been “known for having some difficult parents, but it’s just a vocal minority”.
“Look at the socio-economic status of the school and it’s not surprising there’s a parent like that,” added the man, who no longer teaches at the school and who asked not to be identified. “(Some) overprotective parents have a lot more resources at their disposal."
Nonetheless, there “should be no excuse” for the parent’s response here, said Chong Ee Jay, manager of the non-profit TOUCH Family Services.
“This is a very clear-cut student disciplinary issue,” he noted. “Many times, students will have difficulty in self-regulating the use of their phones. So such rules are in place to help them develop responsibility in usage.”
“Are there possibly other ways? Yes, I'm very sure there would be. But the school would always want to come first from the angle of educating the child and to set the learning context in the classroom for the child.”
A SCHOOL’S RIGHTS
The Singapore Government’s education regulations provide full legal authority for principals to exercise responsibility for the discipline of students in their schools, said National Institute of Education don Dr Jason Tan.
“Being the head of a state institution, a school principal has to abide by the legal mandate entrusted to him or her by the Ministry of Education (MOE),” he added. “It’s not like hiring a private home tutor for your child where that person answers to you, you are the direct employer and you set the guidelines.”
An MOE spokesperson said schools are provided with a set of guidelines to manage disciplinary issues. Within this framework, schools may determine their own rules based on “context and needs”. These rules are then communicated to students and parents during enrollment, said the ministry.
“I guess it’s easy enough for parents when they enrol a child in a school to agree with the imposition of rules,” said Dr Tan. “But perhaps it’s a different matter when their child is involved.”
“Parental instincts then come into play… it becomes much more real and the consequences are more immediate. You feel the impact much more directly when your own child is affected by the punishment.”
Nonetheless, both parents and students must respect the school as an authority with its own set of rules, said Mr Chong.
“If you choose to enrol your student in this school, then you must abide by the law of the land.”
Still, when “immediate dangers” such as a student’s health and physical safety are concerned, parents should jump in immediately, he suggested.
WHAT PARENTS CAN DO
Should parents deem punishments unwarranted or excessive, there are channels to express their feelings, said Dr Tan. “There are already avenues for parents to legitimately communicate their feelings to the principal.”
Family-life educator Ean Yeo recommended that parents establish communication channels regularly with teachers as well.
“I would suggest that before they enrol their children, find out all about the school,” said the mother of two daughters in their 20s. “Be proactive. Attend events like parent-teacher meetings. Ask and know more about what’s happening.”
Added Ms Yeo: “I even know schools which invite parents to get their feedback before setting rules. I encourage schools to continue doing this, for any major changes.”
Parents need to be understanding and cooperative with schools, while letting their children know the consequences of violating rules, she explained.
“Anytime there is a violation of rules, parents must understand the situation from the child and school’s perspective, and see how to work together to help the child learn from the experience and correct that behavior.”
“After all, both parties have the interests of the child at heart.”