Add values to tough decisions

22nd July 2005 at 01:00
Brendan O'Malley reports from the International Confederation of Principals' convention in Cape Town, where school leaders gathered to discuss the importance of moral leadership and community values in the war on global terrorism

You are the director of the only secondary school in Uden, a town of 40,000 people in Holland, and you have just learned that six of your pupils are among four boys accused of trying to set fire to a mosque and three others charged with burning down an Islamic primary school.

The boys have been imprisoned for 40 days but are to be put under house arrest while they await trial. Everyone in the local community is convinced that they should return immediately to school. The teachers, parents'

council and school leaders think otherwise.

So what do you do?

The dilemma was posed to Cape Town delegates by Dutch principal Franz Schmidz.

"Refuse until they have been through the habilitation process," said one South African head.

"If you chase the kids out it will cause unrest, so bring them back but speak to the school to state clearly that their behaviour is not acceptable," said another. It was all part of an attempt to get school leaders to confront difficult choices by thinking through their values in order to make decisions.

But this was a real dilemma Mr Schmidz faced in the week that film director Theo Van Gogh was murdered by a suspected Islamist and a minister declared war on Islamic fundamentalism.

"First we took our time," said Mr Schmidz. "We didn't respond to community pressure to readmit them in a matter of days.

"We came to the opinion that you should only be punished for an offence once, and that as this happened outside our school it was for the courts to decide."

Mr Schmidz said it was about making a choice based on his personal values of concern, care, compassion and forgiveness.

After two months, five boys were readmitted to the school. One who collaborated with a documentary maker was not allowed back.

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