Teacher sacked after ordering pupil to leave class for removing mask

Teacher at £14,000-a-year private school was sacked after ordering pupil to leave class for removing his Covid mask to drink water just 38 seconds into a lesson

  • Suzanne Smith was a teacher at £14,000-a-year St Clare’s school in Porthcawl
  • She sent a boy, 15, out of class because he didn’t ask permission to take mask off 
  • Mrs Smith told a hearing she was strict on rules because of her vulnerable son 
  • But the tribunal rejected this claim after hearing she had taken her family – including her son – on holiday to Greece when he ‘should have been shielding’

A private school teacher was sacked after she ordered a 15-year-old pupil out of her class for removing his Covid mask to have a drink of water just 38 seconds after the lesson began – and then forgetting about him for more than 20 minutes. 

Suzanne Smith, a teacher at the £14,000-a-year St Clare’s school in Porthcawl, South Wales, sent the child out as he didn’t ask for permission to take the face covering off and claimed that his actions had ‘presented a serious and imminent risk of danger’.

She then forgot about him and failed to check outside the classroom for almost half an hour during which time the teenager went to another part of the school, an employment tribunal heard.

Mrs Smith told a Cardiff tribunal hearing that her strictness when it came to Covid was due to her having a ‘clinically vulnerable’ son, but the tribunal rejected this claim after hearing she had taken her family – including her son – on holiday to Greece when he ‘should have been shielding’. 

Judge Angharad Lloyd-Lawrie rejected Mrs Smith’s claims of unfair dismissal – adding she had tried to ‘mislead’ the school and the tribunal as to her level of fear of the pandemic. 

Suzanne Smith told a Cardiff tribunal hearing that her strictness when it came to Covid was due to her having a ‘clinically vulnerable’ son, but the tribunal rejected this claim after hearing she had taken her family – including her son – on holiday to Greece when he ‘should have been shielding’ (pictured: Mrs Smith at Aeolos Beach Hotel, Greece, with husband Paul and children)

The tribunal heard Mrs Smith (pictured with husband Paul) joined the school in 2013 before being promoted to Head of Key Stage Four in 2015 and moving to Head of Key Stage Three two years later

St Clare’s is one of 40 schools in the UK run by company Cognita Schools, and hosts a nursery, prep school and senior school with annual fees of up to £14,000 a year.

The tribunal heard Mrs Smith joined the school in 2013 before being promoted to Head of Key Stage Four in 2015 and moving to Head of Key Stage Three two years later.

The school shut in March of 2020 due to the pandemic, and Mrs Smith’s son – who attended a different part of St Clare’s – was advised to shield as a vulnerable person, having been previously treated for cancer.

Mrs Smith taught remotely and, when the school reopened at the end of June, continued delivering lessons from home.

However, the tribunal was told she and her family – including her vulnerable son – went on holiday to the Greek island of Kefalonia in August that year.

Mrs Smith and her two children all returned to St Clare’s in September 2020 where her vulnerable son did not wear a mask, the tribunal was told.

In November, the Welsh Government announced all secondary school students in the country were to wear masks in outside and communal areas of schools.

On December 4, the tribunal heard one of Mrs Smith’s pupils – named only as Pupil J – was told by his teacher to put on his mask when she spotted him not wearing one.

The panel was told Pupil J was a ’15 year old vulnerable child who had well-documented additional learning and behavioural needs’ and who sat at the nearest desk to Mrs Smith.

Upon arriving into class that day, Pupil J forgot to sanitise his hands and was instructed to do so by his teacher.

He did so, before sitting at his desk and removing his mask to ‘have a drink’.

Mrs Smith ‘immediately’ sent the pupil, who had been in her class a mere 38 seconds, out of the room.

Having not been checked on for 20 minutes, Pupil J went to the English block, the hearing was told.

A teaching assistant who had previously disagreed with Mrs Smith’s ‘methods of teaching’ including her ‘excessively shouting’ at pupils, raised concerns about her conduct.

The tribunal heard she had forgotten Pupil J was outside the room and only went to check on him after ’24 minutes’.

She left her class to find Pupil J and returned with him to the class after 34 minutes.

The issue was escalated and a meeting was held in which Mrs Smith became ‘aggressive’ and called colleagues ‘b****es’.

She was suspended and dismissed after a subsequent disciplinary meeting in which it was judged she had created a ‘safeguarding and welfare issue’ by sending the pupil out and not checking on him.  

Judge Lloyd-Lawrie said: ‘The reason Mrs Smith sent Pupil J out of the classroom was that he did not ask before he removed his mask to have a drink of water.

‘She alleges it was that time, when his mask was removed to enable him to have a drink, that presented a serious and imminent risk of danger.

‘With respect, I find that that was not her belief.

‘Mrs Smith attempted to mislead [her school] and, indeed, the Tribunal, as to her level of fear of the pandemic.

‘She in fact went with her family – including her clinically vulnerable son – to Kefalonia during the period he should have been shielding.’

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