A "country hick" mother who challenged her dyslexic son's suspension and got the school principal censured says she is proud to have set a legal precedent for other parents.

The mother, who cannot be named because her son's name has been suppressed by the Teachers Disciplinary Tribunal, discovered that Onewhero Area School principal Greg Fenton had no legal power to suspend her son informally.

The tribunal has censured Fenton for not following the proper legal process for suspending the Year 6 boy, who was then aged 10, after the boy was accused of inappropriately touching three girls.

"He just thought, 'Here's a country hick, if I throw these big words at her and be nice to her', he probably thought I was like any other parent," the boy's mother said.


"But I fought all the way. I fought him. I know my son."


Principal censured for illegal 'Kiwi suspension' of boy who touched girls

Youthlaw general manager Jennifer Braithwaite said she was not aware of other cases where a principal has been censured for informally and illegally suspending a child, even though the practice of informal "Kiwi suspensions" is known to be widespread.

The mother of the Onewhero boy said she hoped the case would help other parents.

"I'm quite proud of myself for doing that," she said. "I didn't stand back."

She and her husband were farmers and moved around to work on different farms, so her son had attended several schools.

"He is dyslexic, and right from the start he has never been given a fair chance by any teacher in any school," she said.


"Every teacher, every school, would give him what he wanted to do rather than what he needed to be doing.

"Every time we needed to go to a new school I'd say, 'This is what my son is like, and this is how you will get him to learn'. No school has actually ever listened to me."

She described her son as "a hands-on boy".

"You show him how to do something and he knows how to do it. But you try to tell him how to do something from a book and he just can't grasp the idea of it," she said.

"He also knew how to manipulate teachers. Her son knew that if you played up for half the day, for the other half of the school day he got to play with Lego.

"That doesn't make him hard to educate. You just have to think outside the square."

Onewhero Area School asked the boy to stay home informally for almost three weeks before suspending him formally in November 2016. Photo / File
Onewhero Area School asked the boy to stay home informally for almost three weeks before suspending him formally in November 2016. Photo / File

Onewhero Area School obtained funding for a teacher aide for him, but Fenton asked the boy's parents to keep their son at home after three girls complained on November 7, 2016, that the boy was "coming over into their space", "annoying them", and wanted to be the boyfriend of one of the girls.

The disciplinary tribunal said Fenton then spoke to the girls and said that each girl described the inappropriate touching.

The boy was kept at home until November 28, when his mother arranged for him to return to school to work with his teacher aide.

Fenton then served the family with a formal suspension, triggering a board of trustees meeting on December 2.

The mother denied that her son had touched any of the girls inappropriately and said a Child, Youth and Family investigator told the board the boy had "poked one girl in the chest, that was it".

"I got angry. So I started googling and found out you can't actually suspend a kid for more than five days in a term, and it has to be legally done within 24 hours of a kid being sent home.

"The only other reason a kid can be sent home for health and safety reasons is if he has a communicable disease or is like smelly and hasn't had a shower for weeks, and that can't be any more than three days.

"I got an advocate from Youthlaw, and that actually p---d off Fenton and p---d off the board, and that's when they went for health and safety reasons and they stated again that they didn't have the facilities to educate my son."

The board excluded the boy from the school on December 7, 2016, but the mother refused to accept it.

"In the end I sent a huge complaint to the Ministry of Education, the board, Greg Fenton himself, Hekia Parata [then Education Minister], the Human Rights Commission - there were seven different letters that got sent out," she said.

She said the board of trustees then hired an independent investigator who found other cases in which proper suspension procedures had not been followed.

The mother said Fenton resigned and the board apologised to her. Her son was now free to return to the school. But by then he had started in Year 7 at a high school and was happy to stay there.

"His whole attitude and everything changed. He was much happier," the mother said.

The family has since moved to another district where the boy is at another high school.

"He's doing really well," his mother said. "He is 14 now and a teenager, so there's a different set of rules again."

Onewhero Area School board chair Aaron Reese said the school acknowledged the tribunal's decision.

"We can confirm that we take our responsibilities to our students extremely seriously and do not anticipate a similar situation occurring again at our school."