Macleans College expulsion: School says it's had strong support from public after being ordered to apologise to expelled student

legal threshold for gross misconduct, been published online, Ministry of Education guidelines

An Auckland school that was told to apologise for expelling a student for what it considered gross misconduct has received support from people “dotted all over New Zealand”, the principal says.

As reported by the Herald last week, Macleans College expelled the 17-year-old in 2019 after a heated argument over an iPad ended in him telling a teacher to “f*** off” and “don’t touch my sh*t”.

The boy required the iPad as a learning aid due to dysgraphia, or trouble with writing.

The school board expelled the boy for “gross misconduct”, defined as being “striking and reprehensible to a high degree”.

But Chief Ombudsman Peter Boshier disagreed, finding the boy’s actions did not meet the legal threshold for gross misconduct.

The Office of the Ombudsman has the power to investigate complaints about public agencies such as state schools and make recommendations, which are almost always followed.

The Herald has received a range of feedback from readers, split in support of the family and the school.

But Macleans’ principal, Steve Hargreaves, said emails and phone calls direct to the school had been “100 per cent” supportive. Most were critical of the Ombudsman and the family involved.

legal threshold for gross misconduct, been published online, Ministry of Education guidelines

A school that was told to apologise for expelling a student has received support from people “dotted all over NZ”, principal Steve Hargreaves says. Photo / Jason Oxenham

“They think schools should be able to make a call about student discipline and what works for their community.”

Hargreaves said people might not appreciate that the Ombudsman was “operating to a different standard”.

“In his office he has to follow a legal argument as opposed to probably what society values most – and they’re two different things.”

The father of the ex-student said the family also had strong support from people close to them, who understood the journey they had been on.

But he admitted sitting up till 1am reading what “keyboard warriors” had to say on social media.

“I’m not surprised by any of the feedback. Everybody has the right to their opinion.”

His son, now 19, was “a little bemused by the comments” but was resilient. “He’s managed to bounce back from it but if it had been somebody a bit more fragile it could have gone a lot different.”

Case raises questions for future disciplinary proceedings

legal threshold for gross misconduct, been published online, Ministry of Education guidelines

Chief Ombudsman Peter Boshier. Photo / File

Chief Ombudsman Peter Boshier’s finding and case notes have been published online, including details of the family’s complaint about the disciplinary hearing.

The school has apologised to the student and his family and has undertaken to ensure its processes align with Ministry of Education guidelines, the case note said.

Boshier told the Herald last week he also wanted other schools to learn from the Macleans finding – and to remember that suspension or expulsion was “life-changing” for a student and whānau.

Hargreaves said he had had several discussions with other principals about how the finding might affect their own disciplinary processes.

“Using gross misconduct as a means of suspending a student is obviously a really high bar. So what schools then think is, there’s another means of suspension – a student that’s continually disobedient – so maybe that’s a safer route to go down.

“What that means is, not having to meet the bar of being striking and reprehensible – but what you have to do is work with the student over time, and if their behaviour is continual disobedience then suspension might be more difficult to challenge.”

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