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School principal says there is 'zero tolerance' on corporal punishment

[SN file photo]
Kruse denies defense motion for acquittal in trial against former teacher

The 11-year-old victim in the government's case against former Coleman Elementary schoolteacher Tony Leatualevao told the jury yesterday that the defendant used a wooden paddle to strike him five times last year.

This is according to testimony provided during Day 2 of Leatualevao's jury trial in the High Court. The government called four witnesses to the stand: the victim and his mother, the school principal, and the lead investigator.

According to the boy, he wasn't able to sit down for hours because of the pain that followed the assault by his teacher.

It was revealed during the trial that the victim got into a fight with several 7th graders after school on November 2, 2016. The next day, as the first bell rang, Leatualevao called the victim over to his desk and questioned him about the alleged fight, after which he scolded the boy about not heeding his advice about not fighting.

The boy's mother testified that on that same day, she spoke to the defendant, who admitted to her that he did “sasa” her son for fighting in school and not obeying him. She said she was not aware of the severity of her son’s injuries until later when she noticed the bruises on his buttocks while he was showering. The mother identified photos of her son’s injuries shown by the prosecutor during court proceedings.

According to testimony from the school principal, Coleman Elementary has a zero tolerance policy on corporal punishment — they never allow teachers to spank the students. The principal said part of the school's policy is to provide a safe learning environment for all students, and this means no form of beating or abuse.

In his cross examination of all four government witnesses, defense counsel Douglas Fiaui tried to establish the main reason why the defendant spanked the victim.

The principal, during cross examination, told the jury that if a student has a behavior problem in the classroom or on campus, the student is referred to the school counselor and if that doesn't work, the counselor contacts the student’s parents to come in for a meeting. If the behavior continues and there is no sign of change in the student’s actions, the parents are contacted again and suspension becomes an option.

Fiaui asked the witness whether classroom management is about discipline, to which the witness responded that classroom management is not about discipline only, but it involves many factors including teaching, the safety of the student, and other factors that apply to the student's success.

She told the court that Leatualevao no longer teaches at Coleman Elementary, but he was transferred to the Teacher Quality Division at the DOE main office in Utulei. As for the victim, he still attends Coleman Elementary.

Lead investigator Ta’iala Malala confirmed to the jury that Leatualevao provided a written statement to police when he was interviewed on Friday, Nov. 04, 2016 regarding the incident, and admitted that he struck the victim twice with a wooden paddle.

After all the government witnesses testified, Fiaui asked the court for an acquittal. The jury was dismissed for a break while Kruse addressed a legal issue with the defense attorney.

During his verbal motion, Fiaui said the facts the government already presented show that Leatualevao never used any physical force on the victim, and there was no substantial risk to the child’s life. He argued that the injuries to the victim’s body were neither severe nor life threatening.

Prosecutor Morris argued that the evidence proves there was physical force involved, and the injuries were severe and life threatening. Morris said he believes the government presented enough evidence to prove their case.

Kruse denied Fiaui’s motion for an acquittal, saying there were facts presented to the court, and the jury’s duty is to decide on those facts.

When the case continued, the defense called its first witness: the school counselor, who taught for ten years and served as a school counselor for eleven years. The witness said her duty is mostly to provide counseling for students who are referred by teachers for misbehaviors, including fighting and bullying other students.

She told the jury that the victim in this case was referred to her office three times during the last school year, for reasons including fighting, name calling, bullying, and playing inside the classroom.

After the third time, she said she sent a letter to the victim’s parents to come see her, to discuss their child’s actions. It was after consultation with the parents, that the victim was suspended for 3 days, after the school's vice principal gave her the authority to do so.

The trials resumes today at 9:00 a.m.