Act of Mercy That Costed A Teacher Job !
What you need to know:
Perhaps thinking it was an offence small enough to plead guilty to, one principal admitted to his employer that he had allowed a sick schoolgirl to cook food in his house, some of which she took to her dormitory.
He is now jobless — fired by the Teachers Service Commission (TSC) and his sacking was confirmed by the Employment and Labour Relations Court on October 27.
Also, he had demanded Sh5.6 million in compensation, the majority of it being gratuity. The court, sitting in Kisumu, said he shouldn’t be paid a cent for failing to prove that he was entitled to gratuity; that he will only be given a certificate of service.
The dismissal of Mr Gregory Onyango Obonyo, who has been a teacher since 1990, reads like a tragicomedy from the judgement by Justice Christine Baari that endorsed his sacking.
His last posting was as the principal of Kanga Onditi Mixed Secondary School in Migori County.
He was a year into his tenure as the school head when the incident that cost him his job happened.
The story hinges on a provision inside the TSC Code of Conduct and Ethics for Teachers that was gazetted as a subsidiary legislation in 2015. Section 22 (2) of the code says a teacher shall not “send learners to their personal residence for whatever reason”.
Somewhere in the judgment, the judge says that Mr Onyango, being the school head, “should have led by example in ensuring compliance with the employer’s codes of conduct and ethics”.
It began on the evening of January 28, 2019, when Mr Onyango was approached by two teachers – who were the boarding master and senior teacher respectively – accompanied by the schoolgirl.
The girl said she was sick and that she had spent the whole day in the dormitory, sleeping.
Mr Onyango) states that the school did not have a dispensary and neither did it have a resident female teacher or a matron. He further states that he sent the school watchman, Mr Alex Ochieng, to buy painkillers for the student,” the judgement reads.
“Mr Onyango avers that since the student had not eaten, he instructed his nephew, (name redacted as he is a minor), who lived with him, to give the student some food. Mr Onyango avers that he then retired to bed as he was unwell on the day,” adds the court document.
TSC told the court that from its investigations which saw it interview various parties, it established that the girl spent a considerable amount of time in the principal’s house. “Having slept through supper, she went to Mr Onyango’s residence where he offered her food, which she cooked for herself,” the judge writes, summing TSC’s argument.
She adds: “TSC states that the team further established that the student stayed at Mr Onyango’s residence for two hours and went back to the dormitory with food that she had cooked; and further that it was only after being probed by her fellow students that she confessed having been at Mr Onyango’s residence and that she had got the food from him.”
As a result of the findings, a TSC disciplinary committee sat on February 13, 2019 where Mr Onyango, his nephew and the schoolgirl were heard. From its cross-examinations, TSC concluded that the principal had a case to answer and was subsequently interdicted.
“On June 25, 2019, Mr Onyango appeared before the disciplinary panel and the charges were read to him as appearing in his interdiction letter and which charges he admitted to,” the judgement reads.
Despite Mr Onyango pleading guilty, TSC told the court that it called four witnesses. Its ultimate decision was to dismiss him.
Dissatisfied, Mr Onyango approached TSC’s review committee, where he was heard on June 15, 2021. Before the committee, the court heard, he said he was aware of the code of conduct that defines the boundaries between students and teachers to check against sexual offences. The review committee upheld his sacking, and that prompted Mr Onyango to approach the Employment court in a case filed in November 2021.
“Mr Onyango submits that the decision by TSC was too harsh as he provided health, safety and security to the learner by offering medicine when the sick girl needed it,” reads the judgment, summing the principal’s argument.
Somewhere along the proceedings, the court record shows, it was claimed that Mr Onyango had intercourse with the schoolgirl. However, the judge said, the dismissal was entirely pegged on the act of the teacher allowing the student in his house.
Justice Baari, examining the process that led to the teacher’s dismissal and the avenues of appeal provided, ruled that there was nothing to fault TSC on the way it let go of Mr Onyango.
“In my view, the chronology of the foregone events is an illustration that TSC made every effort and indeed complied with the mandatory requirements of Section 41 of the Employment Act in respect of dismissal/termination procedure. I find and hold that Mr Onyango’s dismissal met the procedural fairness test,” she said.
“The issue of carnal knowledge was not one of the charges against Mr Onyango and did not inform the decision to dismiss him,” she added.
Below were the judge’s further words. “Mr Onyango, being the school principal, should have led by example in ensuring compliance with the employer’s code of conduct and ethics and other laws and regulations that seek to protect students from would-be sexual predators.
TSC’s Code of Conduct and Ethics expressly prohibits visits to teachers’ quarters by students for obvious reasons. That Mr Onyango admitted violating the code is in itself sufficient, valid and justified reason for his dismissal.”
“Mr Onyango did not prove that he was owed a gratuity, which is usually only payable where it is provided as an express term of a contract of employment,” she added, ordering TSC to give him a certificate of service within seven says because “an employee is entitled to irrespective of the reasons for his or her separation with the employer”