Al Bayan Bilingual School is no stranger to being in the spotlight. Last year many teachers felt motivated to submit reviews of the school. Will speech restriction clauses become commonplace in international school handbooks? We, unfortunately, think the answer is yes. See our article, Directors Who Suppress Criticism for more on this topic.
Here are the speech restrictions new to the Al Byan Bilingual School Handbook:
In a section titled “Violations Concerning Teacher Conduct”, the following are described as speech- related violations:
1. “Spreading rumors and raising disharmony among colleagues”
2. “Interfering in others’ matters”
3. “Divulging school secrets or ruining the reputation of the school in any way”
4. “Attacking superiors and the owner of the school, either by word or deed”
The first three follow a consequence procedure of warning letter(s) followed by eventual dismissal. The last (#4), however, results in immediate dismissal. In the case of a physical attack, this is surely understood and reasonable. However, in regards to the phrase “by word”, one is left to wonder if criticism of a superior qualifies as an “[attack]…by word”, and if so is that enough to warrant being fired? Are we to conclude that no matter what transpires, employees are bound to speak in only a positive fashion about the school. For example: I had the best day today. I found out I was being given a new class to teach without any additional compensation. I’m thrilled.
The first three points all contain vague language that leaves much freedom in the interpretation, a fact that could prove very dangerous for an employee, especially one whose superiors are looking for any excuse – legitimate or illegitimate – to fire.
In addition to “Violations” 1-4, the following was included in the section labeled “Communication Procedure”:
” There is no protected right of any person in the school to speak in a negative fashion about another person without that person’s knowledge.”
What precisely constitutes “speaking in a negative fashion”? Certainly something hateful that qualifies by Western standards as slander would seem reasonable grounds for dismissal. But what about everyday chat with your colleagues? You can see how the vague language in this statement could also be misapplied in many unreasonable and unjust ways.
Admittedly, this is only outlined in the Staff Handbook and has not as of yet been applied in any circumstances that I know of. Perhaps, these new rules will simply become part of the body of rules that we have on the books but do not actually enforce. However, in light of the current state of rights (or lack thereof) of ex-patriate workers in Kuwait, this does qualify as a cause for concern.
An Anonymous Staff Member of Al Bayan Bilingual School (I’m sure you understand my reasons for writing anonymously since this email may be considered in violation of some of those new rules.)