Teacher’s future uncertain after conviction for injuring student

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The Antigua and Barbuda Union of Teachers (A&BUT) plans to approach the two organisations responsible for hiring and disciplining teachers, to advocate for convicted teacher Vendiz Charles to remain in the service.

The union’s president, Ashworth Azille, told OBSERVER media he will lead the lobbying effort, as Charles now has to find a way to make up for lost time since he was suspended following the incident in January 2017, resulting in him being charged and subsequently found guilty.

“We certainly hope that this talented teacher will be able to continue to provide service to this nation. In my interaction with him, he’s very desirous of doing that. So, now that the court has handed down its judgment, we are keen to interact with the Ministry of Education and Public Service Commission even to see what will happen with Mr. Charles going forward,” he said.

Charles was convicted of inflicting bodily harm after he admitted hurling a stone which struck 14-year-old student Akeem Scotland on the head, fracturing his skull.

More than two years later, the teenager reportedly still suffers headaches and blurred vision as a result of the injury.

Charles taught Physics at the state-run Clare Hall Secondary School. He had only been working there for six months prior to the incident which occurred on the school compound after classes had already been dismissed for the day.

Over 100 of his colleagues petitioned the court for leniency ahead of his sentencing last week. They described him as “deeply intelligent and talented” and suggested that a prison sentence would serve no one any good.

Justice Iain Morley agreed that the teacher is “not a present danger to Akeem or the public; there has been no history of poor compliance with court orders; there is a realistic prospect of rehabilitation evident from his remorse; there is strong personal mitigation in that he is supported by his community and all his colleagues; incarceration will likely turn him to criminality whereas at liberty he can do good in the community if allowed to continue teaching.”

The judge said under those circumstances, he did not believe the punishment required sending the teacher to jail, so he imposed an 18-month suspended sentence. Charles would only go to jail if he commits another offence within that period.

Additionally, he has to compensate the student $20,000 within 12 months, and if he fails to do so, he would be jailed for six months.

The court noted that the child’s medical bills were covered by insurance, except for a $50 out-of-pocket expense his mother had to pay – but Charles should still pay for the pain and suffering he caused the boy who was then 14 years old.

The evidence was that Charles threw the stone towards a group of students on January 24, 2017 after repeatedly telling Scotland to stop riding his bicycle and performing stunts on it in the school’s corridor. Scotland’s friends were filming him, and none of them obeyed Charles’s order.

He said he did not intend to hurt them, but only to get their attention. At the same time, he said, he knew there was a likelihood that someone could have been hurt when he hurled the stone. The stone struck Scotland on the head. He passed out and was rushed to hospital where he spent a

week, plus a month out of school.

While the teachers and their union would like Charles to return to teaching, Scotland said he does not want him to return to Clare Hall Secondary School because it would make him quite uncomfortable.

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