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School CP - February 1997

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Jamaica Gleaner, Kingston, 11 February 1997

Teachers demand legal costs when sued in line of duty

By Claudienne Edwards, Staff Reporter

THE JAMAICA Teachers' Association (JTA) wants Government to foot the legal bills of teachers whose attempts to discipline students are being challenged in court.

Negotiations are currently taking place to have the state pay the litigation costs which result from attempts to deal with problems in the classroom.

Currently, there are seven cases in the island's courts where teachers are being sued for disciplinary actions in schools, JTA president, Mr. Juno Gayle, told The Gleaner in an interview.

The association is also pushing for the Government to pay a gratuity of $1 million effective April 1996, to the beneficiary or estate of a teacher who dies as a result of injuries attributable to the job, he said.

He said the salary agreement signed with the Ministry of Education yesterday, was done with the understanding that the gratuity claim would be dealt with positively.

Mr. Gayle said there was a case currently in the courts in Westmoreland where a teacher was sued because a child was strapped and she got skin bruises. The teacher has to pay the legal costs, he said.

The JTA president explained that all the cases currently in court did not necessarily involve corporal punishment. He said that education observers are of the view that the increase in lawsuits is linked to the growing popularity of cable television here and the tendency in the USA to sue for everything. As an example, he spoke of an incident where a male student threatened to sue the teacher if she "touched" him. The student warned the teacher that he would "buy a car" off her, he said.

Mr. Gayle said that arising from recent national discussions about corporal punishment in schools, there was the widely-held impression that it was illegal. "Corporal punishment is not illegal as long as the proper procedure is used," he said.

Mr. Gayle said that as part of the salary package signed yesterday, the teachers' Blue Cross benefit for injury and dismemberment has been increased from $5,000 to $100,000 effective February 1, 1996.

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