Published On: Wed, Apr 20th, 2022

St. Maarten Academy had to rehire unjustly fired teacher – or pay

PHILIPSBURG — The St. Maarten Academy has to reinstate a teacher French or otherwise pay compensation of 84,000 guilders ($46,927), the Court in First Instance ruled on February 23.

The school dismissed the teacher on August 11, 2021, based on arguments that did not hold up in court.

On June 6, the teacher trained for the end of year exam with the French third form. The real questions that would be posed during this exam were displayed on a so-called smart board; when the board malfunctioned, the teacher allowed one student to take a picture of the screen. The student then distributed the picture through WhatsApp to other students.

The school was not happy: it accused the teacher of academic fraud. The court notes in its ruling that the school allows students to train with real exam questions. But it reproached the teacher for allowing a student to take a picture of these questions. The court wondered what difference this makes, because the students had been able to see the questions in class and that they could have written them down or simply remembered them. “After school they could figure out the answers with the help of books and the internet,” the ruling states.

The court ruled that what the teacher did cannot be qualified as academic fraud. “That is a serious infringement that would not encourage future employers to hire him. There is no personal gain, no undue advantage for students and no malice.”

The school, in court represented by the chairman of its board, attorney Roland Duncan, also gave as reasons for the teacher’s dismissal his “unacceptable conduct and attitude,” reporting late to work or being absent and a refusal to follow school guidelines.

The court examined whether the dismissal was unreasonable and it also took the “consequence-criterion” into consideration. “If the call on unreasonable termination fails the dismissal is untouchable,” the ruling states.

The ruling states that the teacher’s absence from work has been partially established. The teacher, who was hired in 2004 for a monthly gross salary of 6,960 guilders ($3,888), received positive evaluations throughout the years, varying from “good” to “excellent”.

During the court hearing on January 12, Duncan revealed that the government had urged the school to diminish the number of teachers it employed.

Duncan also indicated that the school is unable to pay compensation, due to the strict financing by the government. That argument does not fly, the court stated: “The labor contract is based on the civil code and the protection of employees would become illusionary if the employer could posit that it has no money to pay because a third party, country St. Maarten, finances her inadequately.”

The court set the compensation at twelve months of gross salary, an amount of 84,000 guilders ($46,927).

“It is up to the school, to decide whether it will rehire the teacher or that it will pay severance. The choice has to be made within two weeks,” the ruling states.

The court furthermore ordered the school to continue paying the teacher’s salary, starting from November until the end of his contract. It also ordered the school to reinstate the teacher, and determined that it won’t have to do this if it pays compensation.


Related article: Opinion piece: “Pleasing rates