The two teachers who tried to convert one of their students have been removed from the school and placed on desk jobs at the Miri district education office as the state education department attempts to cool anger from the locals, says the state minister in charge of education, Datuk Fatimah Abdullah. – The Malaysian Insider pic

The two SMK Lutong teachers who tried to convert one of their students have been removed from the school and placed on desk jobs at the Miri district education office, starting today, as the state education department attempts to cool simmering anger from the local community.

The state minister in charge of education matters, Datuk Fatimah Abdullah, said the investigation on their conduct was still ongoing and removing them from the school was a “standard operating procedure” in cases of misconduct.

She said the seriousness of the case is similar to offences such as rape of a student, illegal liaison, molestation or physical abuse.

Fatimah said the teachers’ attempt to convert 13-year-old Sabrina Ngumbang to Islam without the consent of her parents was akin to a man having sex with a minor even though the minor is a willing partner.

The state Welfare, Women and Family Development Minister said removing them – one had been with the school for about five years and the other only posted there last year – was to give all parties “time to cool down”.

“We do not want a tense situation in the school,” she said in Kuching today.

Anger over the attempt to convert the 13-year-old Dayak schoolgirl from a poor, lowly educated family in this town about 12km from Miri city continued with some 100 Dayak parents staging a protest in front of the school gate last Saturday demanding the duo be sent back to the peninsula.

The protest reportedly cut short the school’s annual general meeting of its Parents-Teachers Association.

The parents also handed a memorandum which was reportedly received by the PTA president Ahmad Shukri.

Last Friday, outspoken Sarawak Minister Tan Sri James Masing also demanded that the teachers be ordered out of the state.

Masing had said Sarawak had no need of teachers who deviated from their duties and illegal conversions must be nipped “in the bud before it gets out of control”.

Fatimah said once the investigation – headed by the state education director – is completed, the recommendations would be forwarded to the Ministry of Education for further action.

Last Friday, Fatimah tried to soften the seriousness of the teachers’ action by claiming they were just ignorant of the law and they were unaware they could not convert a minor without the consent of her parents.

She acknowledged their action had caused anxiety that had the potential to lead to religious friction.

Sabrina, in her meeting with Fatimah at the school, admitted she was interested in becoming a Muslim.

She also claimed her grandparents, who had raised her since she was three months old, were also interested in converting.

In the meeting attended by the two teachers, Sabrina’s parents, aunt and grandparents, the church officials who helped Sabrina lodge a police report, the school principal and a senior Miri division education official at the school, Fatimah found the grandparents were unaware of the consequence of their action.

She said from a legal standpoint, Sabrina never sought the consent of her parents who had never given up their custody of her.

“They should have spoken to her parents. As teachers, they should realise that we have laws on conversion of minors and consent would have to be obtained, even if the teachers had managed to bring the student to the Majlis Agama Islam to register her conversion,” she said.

Fatimah said while the episode should be a lesson for teachers on how to handle sensitive issues like race and religion, it should also be a lesson for teachers not to dabble in conversion activities. Read more TMI

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