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Sabah students win suit against teacher who was absent from class for seven months

KOTA KINABALU – Three former secondary school students in Sabah successfully sued their former English language teacher in the northern Kota Belud district for being absent from class for seven months in 2017.

The Malaysian state’s High Court ruled in the landmark case that the teacher and four other defendants including the government breached their statutory duties and violated the former students’ constitutional guarantee to education.

The judgment was made via e-review on Tuesday and made available to the media by the plaintiffs’ lawyer Sherzali Herza Asli on Wednesday.

Students Rusiah Sabdarin, Nur Natasha Allisya Hamali and Calvina Angayung, all 22 years old now, had sued their former English teacher Mohd Jainal Jamran, Taun Gusi national secondary school principal Suid Hanapi, the education director-general, the Education Minister and the government.

In his judgment, Justice Leonard David Shim said the students had proven their case on a balance of probabilities.

He granted the students’ claims after hearing evidence and submissions from both parties.

Among the declarations was that the five defendants were in breach of their statutory duties under the Education Act 1996 by failing to prepare the three plaintiffs for examinations.

The court also declared that the principal was in breach of his duties under the Public Officers (Conduct and Discipline) Regulations 1993.

Justice Shim said the action had violated the three students’ access to education guaranteed to them under the Federal Constitution.

He allowed for nominal damages in the sum of RM30,000 (S$8,750) to be paid to each of the students by all five defendants.

He further allowed aggravated damages in the sum of RM20,000 to be paid to each of the students by the five defendants.

Justice Shim also allowed for 5 per cent per annum interest on nominal and aggravated damages from the date of judgment until the date of full and final payment.

The suit was filed in December 2020 by the three students against their teacher at SMK Taun Gusi in Kota Belud for failing to turn up and teach them for seven months in 2017 when they were aged 16.

The suit by the trio is among two lawsuits against the same teacher brought by former students of the school.

The first was filed by former student Siti Nafirah Siman in October 2018. The trial before Justice Ismail Brahim at the High Court in Sabah is scheduled to resume on Aug 16.

The suits came about with a campaign started by Sabah-based NGO Tiada.Guru (no teacher in Malay), which has been pushing for students’ right to quality education and awareness of teacher absenteeism, especially in rural Sabah. - THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK