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The Straits Times, Singapore, 13 October 2003
Mostly 'thoughtless pranks': St Andrew's
13 bully cases this year comparable to other boys' schools, says principal; but parents feel punishments are too light
By Ben Nadarajan
BULLYING at St Andrew's Secondary is no worse than at other boys' schools, and the issue is not a problem, said its principal.
Most of the 13 cases this year were 'thoughtless pranks' like pouring water on a classmate's chair, said Mrs Belinda Charles.
There were sporadic cases of scuffling and manhandling and, in two serious cases, one had been kicked in the stomach, and the other in the chest and ribs.
Beyond bullying, fights are 'quite common', said Mrs Charles. 'It's just a matter of how serious.'
There have been two serious fights since she took over as principal last year. In one instance, a boy threw a chair at a classmate, who had thrown one at him and missed. The boy who was hit required stitches on his head. In the other case, a boy was punched in the eye in the school canteen.
Mrs Charles said no student had asked to be transferred out after being bullied. In the case of a student who left at the end of last year (see above), the principal said it was more a case of him not being able to fit in.
Parents interviewed were unhappy that the school did not inform them of the punishments meted out, and felt that they were too light. For example, the bullies who punched the boy who left school were merely counselled.
Said Mrs Charles: 'We feel it is more important to concentrate on reforming the bullies through punishment and counselling rather than making it an issue of retribution.'
She said verbal bullies will receive a stern warning and repeat offenders or those who injure others will be caned and, finally, expelled.
An Education Ministry spokesman said expulsion was a last resort used when 'all other measures fail to improve a student's conduct'.
The father of the boy beaten in the canteen was pleased that St Andrew's asked the bully to go. 'The school even advised my son on what he should do if he sees that boy outside school.'
The school's disciplinary committee investigates every complaint, big or small, said Mrs Charles. Its members also patrol neighbouring student hangouts for an hour after school is dismissed, to ensure no student gets into scuffles.
Mrs Charles said: 'The school in recent years has made significant progress in responding swiftly to complaints of bullying or fighting.'
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