In Parliament today (1 Mar), Education Minister (School) Ng Chee Meng gave a detailed outline of the standard operating procedures (SOPs) the Ministry of Education adopt, but the teen suicide case failed it’s criteria.
Here are the SOPs and the fact that happened:
1) Minister: “First, teachers or staff will be discreet when bringing the student to meet with the police to ensure that no “undue attention” is drawn to the student.”
Fact: Undue attention has been drawn from several school educators onto Benjamin Lim. It is unknown how many school educators were present in the office where the interview was held. It is also unknown if Benjamin made a confession in their presence which could have shamed the student.
2) Minister: “Second, the school leaders will first ascertain the student’s physical and emotional well-being before letting the police speak to the student.”
Fact: Benjamin Lim was brought to the principal’s office without being ascertained by the staff that he is in a healthy state of mind to be spoken to by the police.
3) Minister: “Fourth, should the police decide to bring the student to the police station for further questioning, the school will request that the police first contact one of the student’s parents to inform them of the situation and where the student will be taken to. The school will also ensure that the student has something to eat or is not hungry.”
Fact: The school did not send any representative to the police station, and also did not assess if a 14-year-old can accept a police interrogation by himself. With the absence of a school representative at the police station, Benjamin could have gone hungry in the 3.5 hour long interrogation. Another critical question is why was Benjamin’s mother disallowed from attending the interrogation with her son, and also why are interrogations of minors allowed in the absence of a parent’s consent.
4) Minister: “Sixth, after the student is released by the police, school staff will keep in touch with the parents of the student to render support and to work out any follow-up steps to look after the well-being of the student.”
Fact: The school only made a single phone call to the family and did not send a school counsellor to Benjamin’s place after the police interrogation. No support was rendered and no follow-up steps were mentioned. Benjamin ended up informed that he was disallowed to the school camp on the next day, and the school failed to notice the psychological impact of the ban.
The Education Minister did not apologise for the suicide incident or admit any fault on the MOE’s part. However he said that the MOE will participate in the upcoming police procedures review when dealing with minors under investigation.