Headmaster interdicted over school play episode files case to clear his name and get back his job
The principal of a national school in the south, who was interdicted ostensibly because students of the school had mimicked President Mahinda Rajapaksa in a school play, has filed a fundamental rights application in the Supreme Court. E. K. Premasiri, principal of Siridhamma College, Labuduwa, Galle, has been interdicted by the Ministry of Education Secretary, H. M. Gunasekara.
In his application, the principal, Mr. Premasiri, has cited as respondents members of the Public Service Commission and R. Pathirana, Member of Parliament for the Galle district.
The principal is seeking an order to be reinstated and allowed to continue his work as the principal of Siridhamma College, Labuduwa, among other relief.
The principal states that in 2010, MP Pathirana developed a hostility towards him in connection with student admissions to Siridhamma College. In June that year, the MP had sent Mr. Premasiri a list of 11 names of children that he, the MP, wanted admitted to the school.
At the time of the MP’s request, admissions for 2010 had already been concluded, and there were also children on a waiting list. There remained eight vacancies in Grade 1, which has a maximum 45 students per class. The principal had already made a recommendation on behalf of the school’s Assistant Principal’s child, and admission was pending Ministry approval. That left a balance of seven Grade 1 vacancies, which the Ministry would have to decide on.
None of the children in the MP’s list was on the school’s original list of admissions or on the waiting list. On receiving the MP’s list, the principal, Mr. Premasiri, called Mr. Pathirana to tell him that he was not in a position to admit the children on the MP’s list, as he had no authority to do so.
Subsequently, the MP made a surprise visit to Siridhamma College and threatened the principal in his office, saying that if the Mr. Premasiri would not admit the 11 children, he, the MP, would close down the school, which was founded by his late father (Richard Pathirana).
Meanwhile, in a letter dated June 28, 2010, MP Pathirana requested Mr. S. Nonis, the then Director, National Schools, Ministry of Education, to admit the 11 children. The MP sent a copy of the letter to the principal.
On June 30, 2010, Mr. Nonis called the principal and enquired about the MP’s list. Consequently, in a letter to Mr. Nonis dated July 7, 2010, the principal gave the names of the 11 children, listing them according to the travelling distance of their respective homes from the school.
In a letter to the school principal dated August 19, 2010, H. U. Premathilaka, Additional Secretary, Quality Development of Education, said he understood there remained vacancies after children on the waiting list had been admitted, and that he was giving his approval for the admission of the 11 children on the MP’s list. The letter added that the admissions were subject to the limit of 45 students per class.
In his application, school principal Mr. Premasiri emphasised that even with 45 students per class, only seven vacancies were available at Siridhamma College.
In the meantime, MP Pathirana demanded that at least seven of the children on his list be admitted. The principal duly took steps to admit the first seven children. He later heard from various sources that MP Pathirana was pressing the authorities to have him replaced as the Siridhamma College principal.
In November 2010, staff of the Auditor General’s Department made an unscheduled visit to the school and conducted an audit of Siridhamma College.
The audit revealed nothing adverse against the school or the principal. However, there was credible information that persons with vested interests were taking steps to have Mr. Premasiri removed from his post. In a letter dated December 20, 2010, the principal informed Mr. Pathirana of actions that had been taken in respect of the school and himself.
About the same time, the principal noticed that certain members of the Siridhamma College staff, teachers who were under scrutiny for lapses, were attempting to disrupt the smooth functioning of the school.
The principal gave examples:
On February 12, 2011, teacher Mrs. Yaleena Gunaratne forced her way into the school during a primary school drill display practice and abused the principal in front of the children and their parents. That same day, the principal lodged a complaint with the Akmeemana Police. A case against Mrs. Yaleena Gunaratne is pending at the Galle Magistrate’s Court, Reference No. 67879.
Coming now to the incident that led to Mr. Premasiri’s interdiction, the principal stated that the school’s term-end variety entertainment took place on December 9, 2011, and that included in the programme was a play to be performed by Grade 10 students.
The play began with a student dressed up to suggest President Mahinda Rajapaksa coming on stage. Next came a student dressed as a girl, followed by a number of other characters. The student dressed to suggest the President started to interview the “girl”, making inappropriate gestures as he spoke. At this point, the principal intervened and stopped the drama.
Mr. Premasiri asked the teacher in charge of dancing, Rasika Karunaratne, and the teacher in charge of drama, Asha Nallaperuma, why the play had deviated from the original script. The teachers gave no reply.
Throughout the variety entertainment, three staff members – Indika Manoj, Sumedha Mabharana and Ms. Yaleena Guneratne, who were seated behind the principal, kept making derogatory remarks about him. The principal later learned that these teachers had been recording the play on video and had sent the recording to the authorities.
On December 9, 2011, the principal Mr. Premasiri lodged a complaint with the Akmeemana Police about the incident at the school variety entertainment.
An inquiry is pending.