The High Court has upheld the decision of schools to indefinitely suspend students found in possession of drugs that may endanger public safety, health, and morality. According to Civil Division High Court Judge Musa Ssekaana, schools have a broader duty to protect the welfare of all students and the community at large. He explained that in such cases, no hearing can be expected before the conclusion of investigations.
“The right to a hearing may be excluded if prompt action is required by the administration in the interest of public safety, public health, or public morality, or more broadly in the public interest. The hearing may delay administrative action, defeating the very purpose of taking action in specific situations. The applicant was justifiably suspended indefinitely without a hearing due to the nature of the alleged offense of breaching school rules and regulations,” ruled Justice Ssekaana.
Justice Ssekaana delivered this decision on Friday in a case filed by Tracy Natukunda Bamanya against St. Peters Senior Secondary School Naalya Limited in 2022. In her affidavit, Natukunda, who was a senior six student of Divinity, Entrepreneurship, and Literature (DEL), explained that on August 12th, 2022, while other students were receiving their report cards, she received a suspension letter dated August 11th, 2022, alleging misconduct.
She claimed she wasn’t given a chance to defend herself. Natukunda stated that she complained to the head teacher, who informed her that they had invited her mother to discuss her misconduct, but this meeting never occurred. However, as the school reopening date of September 4th, 2022, approached, Natukunda filed an application seeking interim orders to prevent the school from implementing its decision and allow her to return, study, and take her exams while awaiting the determination of her main application, which has now been decided.
In her application, Natukunda argued that without such orders, she might fail to complete the syllabus and cover topics that hadn’t been addressed, potentially leading to her failure in the final exams. The head teacher, John Katongole, opposed the application, citing Natukunda’s threat to the school and her peers. He explained that in the first term of the 2022 academic year, Natukunda was found in possession of cannabis, a banned substance, and a matchbox. When questioned, she admitted wrongdoing and apologized.
Katongole also noted that Natukunda had distributed cannabis-laced cookies to her colleagues. The school invited Natukunda and her mother to a disciplinary meeting on August 10, 2022, but neither attended. Consequently, the school decided to indefinitely suspend Natukunda due to the perceived threat she posed to other students.
“…the school management allowed the applicant to do her final A ‘Level Examinations from the respondent’s home but could not tolerate her continuing to be a danger to the health and safety of other students,” Katongole said in his affidavit. In his decision, Ssekaana rejected Natukunda’s application and ordered her to pay the school’s legal costs. He emphasized that the school management needed to safeguard the well-being of the student community promptly.
“The applicant was found to be involved in using drugs- cannabis, weed cookies and specifically being a supplier in the school. The actions of the applicant did not only constitute a breach of school rules and regulations but it is also a criminal offense under the Penal Code,” said Ssekaana. The decision has come at a time when students have just reported back to school for their third term.