A picture of a naked African boy set in train a series of events which led to the permanent exclusion of two Orkney pupils in March 1996, since when the authority has incurred expenditure of Pounds 1,300 a week on flying in teachers to educate them at home. This has now ceased.
Sheriff Colin Scott Mackenzie at Kirkwall Sheriff Court upheld the exclusion of the two boys, referred to for legal reasons as P and C, from the primary department of Sanday Junior High. His ruling appears to give significant legal backing to authorities with whom parents refuse to co-operate.
But he said he would be prepared to lift the exclusion orders if the parents gave a written undertaking of their children's future good behaviour.
The parents have so far refused to do so and have kept their three other children off school as well, leaving themselves open to prosecution. They are now considering an appeal.
While finding for the authority, the sheriff said the school did not handle matters as well as it might have, turning a "minor matter" of a child refusing to sit where he was told into one of "major proportions" The picture of the African boy encountered in a class lesson in September 1995 led to such levels of disruption, including racial abuse and assault by both P and C on a learning support teacher, that "something, obviously, had to be done," the sheriff said.
The situation threatened to escalate even further out of control when around half of the 91 children at the Sanday school were kept at home by their parents in protest at the alleged rowdy behaviour of the two children.
By coincidence the Scottish Office has announced that 18 authorities are to take part in its programme to pilot alternatives to exclusion. They will share in funding of Pounds 3 million over the next three years.
The range of projects includes special units for disruptive pupils, personal and social education, enhanced staffing, work placement and behaviour support.
Brian Wilson, the Education Minister, told his counterparts at a meeting in Luxembourg yesterday that there should be "zero tolerance" of violent and disruptive behaviour in schools. This meant protection from external threats but also applied to relationships among pupils and between pupils and teachers.
Mr Wilson announced that local authorities would in future have to log incidents of assault against teaching and non-teaching staff.