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Halifax principal wrestles student to ground, escapes dismissal Add to ...

Video of a Halifax-area principal wrestling one of his students to the ground and manhandling him through the halls has sparked a furious debate here on school discipline and raised the always-fraught issue of race relations.

The leaked surveillance tape shows Ken Fells, a black man with a military background, grappling with 14-year-old Josh Boutilier. The 74-second video on YouTube shows the white student trying to push past the principal before he is hurled to the floor and frog-marched to the office in a full-nelson.

"Everything just went blank and I didn't know what do," Josh said on Friday. "I wasn't hurt at the time because I was in really bad shock, but after a couple of hours I started to hurt real bad."

But Mr. Fells's vocal supporters say surveillance videos rarely show the whole picture and school staff need the discretion to deal with students who pose a danger. The Black Educators Association rallied to his defence.





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What threat the principal believed Mr. Boutilier posed that day in March has not been revealed. Mr. Fells is not speaking and the Halifax Regional School Board will not discuss the specifics of the incident.

The student, who acknowledges getting into trouble in the past, admits he was breaking the rules by using a cellphone. He said he refused to surrender it to staff and that Mr. Fells was "stalking" him through the school immediately before the incident on the video.

After an eight-hour meeting last month, with supporters of Mr. Fells demonstrating outside, the board opted to remove him from Graham Creighton Junior High School in Cherry Brook. But contrary to the recommendation of its own staff, it decided not to fire him. He will get a new assignment in the fall.

That decision has proved hugely controversial.

"A friend was saying, had the situation been in reverse, had that been a white principal who took the same action against a black student, would the outcome have been the same?" said Wayne Coady, a father of three grown children. "There could have been a riot."

It was learned Friday that the incident's fallout had reached even into the marriage of board superintendent Carole Olsen, who admitted it was her husband who leaked the video.

"My husband has apologized to me and to the elected board," she said. "… I had no prior knowledge of the release of this video."

Ms. Olsen had been criticized for seeking Mr. Fells's dismissal, and her husband, apparently hoping to support her position, sent the video to Frank magazine. It wound up at YouTube, where it has been viewed hundreds of thousands of times.

"I've never seen anything quite like what Ken Fells did with that student," said Paul Bennett, a career educator who was vice-principal at Toronto's Upper Canada College, headmaster at Halifax Grammar School and now runs Schoolhouse Consulting. He said school staff dealing with stubborn pupils have two options: phoning the student's parents or calling the police.

"No … use of force other than self-defence is permitted," he said.

Corporal punishment is specifically banned under the Halifax board's code of conduct, but physical contact is not. Chairman Irvine Carvery said staff need discretion to act in dangerous situations.

"You take every measure allowed to eliminate that threat," he said.

Mr. Carvery said the elected board members who opted to retain Mr. Fells heard more evidence than was available to the staff who recommended he be fired. He added that neither Mr. Fells's vocal supporters nor his prominence in the black community were factors considered by the board.

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