Some convicted teachers could get reprieve under JTC Bill

A teacher who has been convicted of an offence which disqualifies him or her from re-entering the classroom could be considered for reinstatement if that offence is expungeable.

This is the proposal put forward by the joint select committee of Parliament reviewing the proposed Jamaica Teaching Council (JTC) Bill on Thursday as they discussed clause 61 of the legislation which deals with the revocation/reinstatement of the registration, licence, or authorisation to teach in relation to a disqualifying offence.

A disqualifying offence is one for which an individual has been imprisoned for two years or more.

The provision states that where the revocation of the registration, a licence, or an authorisation to teach relates to the conviction for a disqualifying offence, the person whose registration, licence, or authorisation to teach has been revoked may apply for reinstatement under the following conditions: (a) after the penalty for such disqualifying offence has been paid and (b) having furnished the council with any prescribed documents and information required by the council.

After several committee members objected to the clause, stating that consideration for reinstatement cannot be based on a disqualifying offence, Government committee member and Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Mining Floyd Green suggested that the right to apply for reinstatement be tied to expungement.

“So where someone has had their record expunged, then they can apply for reinstatement,” he said.

He argued that a teacher convicted of a disqualifying offence should not be automatically disqualified from reinstatement, especially if the offence is not related to anything that is injurious to a child.

“You may have an excellent teacher…[who may] have been involved in a fracas under circumstances where someone was injured and they have been convicted, but their record prior to that was exemplary and the person has proven to be an asset to the school system. Should[n’t] the council be able to consider an application for reinstatement under those circumstances?” he asked.

However, newly appointed Government senator and minister without portfolio in the Office of the Prime Minister Dr Dana Morris Dixon said she was still concerned about someone with a disqualifying offence being able to be reinstated, especially right after they have served their time.

“I think the nomenclature is very important — disqualifying offence — and disqualifying has to have some amount of weight to it. It’s an offence that makes you ineligible to be in a classroom. Now, I agree that there can be some level of rehabilitation tests that can be built into the review that would be done by the council, but I do believe, maybe we could go where Minister Green is going, that any application would have to be after that expungement is done,” she argued.

“But the notion that as soon as you have served your time for a disqualifying offence — disqualifying is very important, that term is important. It means you’re disqualified to be in the classroom. I think maybe we can open it up a little bit to have a way of testing that this person has been rehabilitated, but I don’t think it can be anything that is immediately after that sentence has run its course,” she added.

Government committee member Tova Hamilton said that while she can understand when somebody has been convicted of a crime and has served their time and needs to be reintegrated into society, “it’s a different bar that we are now setting for being in classrooms and with our students with our children”.

“I have no issue with somebody integrating into society, but for me, there is a higher standard that I will set where somebody now is being exposed to our children. There is no argument that can convince me that somebody who has been convicted of a disqualifying offence should be able to make a mark on impressionable minds. It is just too difficult for me,” said Hamilton, the Member of Parliament for Trelawny Northern.

Prior to the committee agreeing that only teachers with disqualifying offences that can be expunged would be considered for reinstatement, Hamilton had argued that this notion needed to be dismissed.

“I don’t want anybody to think that after they have served a prison term of two years or more, they can even apply to be reinstated. You should just dismiss that altogether; just forget that part of it,” she said.

Hamilton gave the example of somebody who has been convicted of rape and has served their seven-year sentence, questioning: “Are you saying that, that person, after they have served their sentence and furnished documents, can now apply to be reinstated?”

The committee agreed that they would adopt, after review, the third schedule of the Criminal Records (Rehabilitation of Offenders) Act which lists offences that are not expungeable, proposing that teachers convicted of these offences cannot apply for reinstatement. These offences include murder and those of a sexual nature.