A TEACHER sacked for striking a student while she was making a phone call about a fire was frightened because she had been involved in a blaze before, a tribunal heard.
IT lecturer Steph Crossley, of Huddersfield, allegedly struck 20-year-old Sabia Sajid on her hip at Kirklees College.
The tribunal at Leeds heard the 57-year-old was teaching a class at the college on January 27 last year when she and her pupils could smell smoke, but could not see any flames.
As Miss Crossley made a telephone call regarding the fire and was taking instructions, she “needed quiet” and slapped Miss Sajid on her hip in a bid to get her to quieten down, the hearing was told.
Miss Sajid was not injured or seriously hurt.
At her disciplinary hearing, which eventually led to her dismissal, Miss Crossley said she may have acted as she did because of an underlying anxiety about fires.
She said at the time: “I don’t like fire because I was involved in a school that had a real fire, whether that’s at the heart of it – I don’t know.”
Miss Crossley, claiming unfair dismissal, also said she was prepared to handle most situations after having had nearly 25 years of experience in the classroom.
Andrea Machell, vice-principal of Kirklees College, told the tribunal Miss Crossley was given the chance to explain her behaviour but her previous experience of a fire was not considered a mitigating circumstance.
Mrs Machell said: “We gave Miss Crossley every opportunity to say ‘that was unusual circumstances and I acted out of character’.
Miss Crossley’s counsel, Jenni Watson, asked Mrs Machell if the previous fire and Miss Crossley’s unblemished record had made a difference to the disciplinary panel’s considerations.
Mrs Machell replied: “We did consider that and asked her ‘did you panic?’ and her reply was, ‘no, I absolutely did not panic.’”
Miss Watson asked if the physical contact on Miss Sajid was an “aimed blow.”
Mrs Machell described a demonstration carried out at the disciplinary hearing.
Charles Tober, the college’s director of curriculum for ages 14-19, had acted out the scenario.
She said that in her recollection Miss Crossley and Miss Sajid were in “close proximity” while Miss Crossley was on the phone and that Miss Crossley “flapped her arm out to the side” and struck Miss Sajid.
Mrs Machell agreed that Miss Crossley had a “proper motive” as she considered the situation urgent but said the disciplinary panel unanimously agreed that she had acted unreasonably, although not with gratuitous violence.
She said: “I think the panel felt, in the circumstances, that the better course of action was to evacuate the students.”
The case continues.