Published On: Sun, Aug 16th, 2020

Closure of Learning Unlimited was unlawful

PHILIPSBURG – Public Health Minister Richard Panneflek did not have the authority to close down the Learning Unlimited preparatory school as he did last week Wednesday, August 12. That is the essence of a ruling issued by the Court in First Instance on Friday, after the school took the country to court to contest the closure.

“The large-scale deployment of police officers against small children is disproportionate and does not meet the requirement of subsidiarity,” judge Coen Luijks wrote in his ruling.

Last week Wednesday the police prevented students from entering the school grounds at the instructions of Minister Panneflek. According to the school’s attorney, Lucas Berman, that instruction should have come from the Minister of justice.

Using the police force to close down the school was a wrongful act, the court ruling states. “This justifies a ban on taking or enforcing measures to close the school without the presence of an administrative decision. As long as this decision has not been taken Leaning Unlimited is authorized to open its  doors and to offer its students education in the regular way at the location of the school without government officials preventing or hindering it.”

The court agrees that the country must have a large degree of freedom to combat the COVID-19 crisis. “It is also up to the country to take measures, monitor them and enforce them. But it is even more important that these measures are in line with the prevailing law in St. Maarten and that government officials act in accordance with the rules that apply to them.”

The court was unable to establish whether ministers are authorized to close down private schools or that such decisions have already been taken by the Minister of Education. “This is in particular a matter for the LAR-judge who will be able to assess the lawfulness of such measures.”

The LAR is the national ordinance administrative law.

The court ordered the country to refrain from preventing that Learning Unlimited offers education to its students as long as there is no administrative decision that justifies enforcement of a closure. Violating this court order carries a penalty of 5,000 guilders ($2,778) for each violation with a maximum of 100,000 guilders ($55,555).