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Parent, ICS at daggers drawn over pornography in school

By Eno-Abasi Sunday
09 April 2015   |   1:47 am
Education Minister, Mr. Ibrahim Shekarau, and at least four local and international organisations are in receipt of a petition by Abuja-based Ms. Natasha Hadiza Akpoti, who is alleging wrongful expulsion, defamation, and acts of negligent conduct against her children by International Community School (ICS) Abuja.

Ibrahim Shekarau

Education Minister, Mr. Ibrahim Shekarau, and at least four local and international organisations are in receipt of a petition by Abuja-based Ms. Natasha Hadiza Akpoti, who is alleging wrongful expulsion, defamation, and acts of negligent conduct against her children by International Community School (ICS) Abuja.

Founded in 1998 to provide international education with sound Christian values to both expatriates and the Nigerian community, the school set sail with just eight students, and has grown to become a full early years, elementary and secondary school of over 500 students from almost 40 countries.

Governed by a board of directors and an advisory board comprising representatives from parents, teachers, administration and the community, the school, according to its promoters, has as its mission, is to provide an environment where our students discover and achieve their optimum potential, acquire social and moral values, develop a positive self-image and collaborate in an internationally diverse community.

This, the promoters say, will be achieved by providing an enriched American curriculum with highly skilled, committed faculty in a technologically advanced learning environment.

However, at the root of the current saga, which has pitched Ms. Akpoti and her children against the elite school, is the alleged involvement of the school’s assistant computer teacher, Mr. Isa Ango, with pornography.

The petition dated February 18, 2015, signed on Akpoti’s behalf by Mr. Dafe Akpedeye SAN, of Compos Mentis Chambers, is entitled, “A Petition of Expulsion, Defamation and Acts of Negligent Conduct involving Pornographic Exposure against International Community School, Abuja.” Other than Mr. Shekarau, whom the petition was directed to, groups and organisations that have been copied are Embassy of the United States of America, Nigerian Human Rights Commission (NHRC), the Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools and the Council of International Schools.

According to the petition, events leading to the alleged expulsion dates back to April 9th, 2014 when Ms. Akpoti’s then 15 year-old son (names withheld), informed his mother that he and some of his classmates stumbled on some pornographic materials on Mr. Ango’s desktop computer, while working on a class assignment he (Ango) instructed them to do.

The students took the liberty to take videos and pictures of the computer screen as evidence of their obscene discovery. “Our client did not read much into it until sometime in November 2014, when there was a pornographic scandal among students of ICS, which necessitated the involvement of our client, being a member of the executive body of ICS’s Parents’ Teachers’ Association (PTA).

“With this pornographic-related incident, our client elected to inform the PTA executive of what her son had told her about the pornographic materials in respect of their teacher, Mr. Isah Ango.

This information our client shared with the PTA executive got to the attention of the management of ICS; this birthed a meeting with ICS’s principal, Mrs. Janice Okpanachi (who appears to double as the Secretary of the Board of Directors of ICS), the petition stated.

It continued, “While having the meeting, Mrs. Janice Okpanachi vouched for the integrity and credibility of Mr. Isah. She went as far as exonerating him from any form of liability (without any form of investigation), alluding that computer sets in ICS were used generally, with the possibility of the students being the culprits.

She however, promised to carry out some investigations. “Alas, the promised investigation ended up exonerating Mr. Isah Ango and with the blame heaped on our client’s son and his classmates even when evidence to the contrary indicated that the ‘searches and history’ of the pornographic materials were carried out at a long period of time spanning from 2012 to 2014; a fact with which it could be deduced that the culprit had been involved in the act with a high and certain level of liberty, access and non-distraction, which the students could not have had,” said the petition.

Mrs. Akpoti frowned at the outcome of the purported investigations and the way and manner employees of ICS treated her and her children with contempt, a development she maintained led her to pressurise other parents to wade into the matter; an action ICS was not comfortable with, and which, according to her, led to the school’s decision to expel her children.

“Suffice it to say that ICS had maligned our client and her children and even sent mails to our client challenging her to go to court if she so desires,” the petition further stated, adding that, “The actions and statements of Mrs. Janice Okpanachi and other employees of ICS severely injured the characters and reputations of our client and her children, and brought them into public scandal, odium and contempt, with the negatively attendant effects of stigmatisation.

Some of their erstwhile schoolmates at ICS and their parents now see them as pornography-watchers reducing them in the eyes and estimation of these persons.” On the strength of the above, the petitioner called on the regulatory body to carry out an independent investigation into the complaints as well as “investigate the issue of pornography which the students were negligently exposed to by the authorities of ICS…” stressing that “ICS owes these students a duty to ensure that such obscene and immoral content are not directly or indirectly part of their education and learning.

Counsel to the International Community School, Abuja, Mr. Isaac Okpanachi, said that Ms. Akpoti received the information (videos and pictures showing parts of the computer history, which included some pornographic sites) from her son in early 2014, but never brought it to the attention to the school authority or anyone in the school, until in Nov/Dec. 2014 when she joined the PTA and chose to bring up the matter there.

This was also the first time that one of ICS staff members had been accused of involvement with pornography. Okpanachi, who is also a member of the school’s Board of Directors said in the aftermath of this, investigations were carried out by the school and it was found that the computer in question was used by many staff members and many students because it is the only public computer in the computer lab that is linked with a printer.

Any member of staff or student could have accessed the computer. As there was no conclusive evidence to link the sites to any particular staff member or student, the school then took the following steps immediately: “As part of their regular counseling, they organised several sessions for middle and high school students, specifically aimed at the boys and the girls separately. They taught the students about the damage caused by these inappropriate materials and how to avoid temptation.

The school also devoted some of its assemblies to the subject. Even now, the school is holding regular mentoring sessions with its students on this and other matters pertinent to their age. “The school also organised a similar session for all male members of staff. A presentation was made to parents, informing them about the incident, and how to protect their children against today’s threats posted by the Internet and television,” he said.

The legal practitioner added that the school’s management has “strengthened controls on the computers by ensuring that such sites are blocked. No student is allowed to use any computer except with the permission and under the strict supervision of a teacher.

“It should be noted that as per the ‘evidence’ which was much later handed over to the school, the times and dates shown did not correspond with any particular teacher’s presence at the school.”

He added that, “Ms Akpoti’s children were never expelled from the school. She had not paid any fees for them for that quarter (term) and still had outstanding fees for the previous quarter.

Also she was threatening to take the school to court and before ‘other bodies’ because she was not satisfied with our investigations, claiming it was sweeping the matter under the carpet.

In view of this and statements she mailed to the PTA expressing her dissatisfaction with the school, the Board of Directors wrote to her advising her to keep the children at home until these issues were addressed. “Even after that, the school head (by text and email) invited Ms. Akpoti in for discussion so that the children could return to school, but she did not respond for several days.

Because these issues were brought to the PTA, the school held a session with all parents to brief them on what had happened and the steps the school had taken to protect their children.

The parents expressed their appreciation and satisfaction with the way the school had handled the issue. “After that briefing (at which Ms. Akpoti was present and also aired her views), she came to school the following day giving to the management the ‘evidence’ and was told that her children could resume school, which they did the following day.

She was also reminded of her outstanding fees, which she promised to settle and did settle. “About a week later the children stopped attending school and it was heard that two of them had been enrolled in another school though no official information was given to the school.

The school has upon request from Ms. Akpoti recently assisted the family with recommendations for the oldest child for admission into schools in Canada,” he stated.

He stressed that, “Concerning some of the statements in the petition, we also wish to clarify that neither Ms. Akpoti nor her children have ever been treated badly or disrespectfully in the school by any teacher or other member of staff, adding that Akpoti’s son, who is at the centre of the crisis still enjoys the friendship of his ‘erstwhile schoolmates’ and was invited to a party recently where he was welcomed by his old classmates just as her younger is expected to visit ICS shortly to take part in a chess competition, where he will be playing with his former chess club friends.