Report: Fallen BSM student saw apology letter as punishment

MANILA, Philippines – The Senate committee on education, arts, and culture will tackle again on Monday, June 15, the death of British School Manila (BSM) student Liam Madamba, who took his own life in February reportedly over problems at school

The second public hearing on the incident will focus on the school's investigation, which Senator Sergio Osmeña III had criticized as limited.

Liam's mother, Trixie, had alleged that the school's Council of Trustees had edited and abridged the report of an Independent Review Panel convened to review the school's processes in dealing with plagiarism. 

But Simon Mann, school head of BSM, clarified that the report was only edited to correct factual inaccuracies, to change names that should be kept confidential, and to include school policies that the panel thought were not in place. 

The public can access two documents in the BSM website:

"If you go through and read the two documents, what you'd see they've done is they've really kept to the spirit of the original document. The adjustments they've made are addendum, or factual inaccuracies. The essence of what's been said is still the same," Mann told Rappler in an interview. 

'Excessive and non-constructive' letter

For instance, in both documents, it was said that in the February 5 incident when Liam and another student was confronted about their plagiarism, "the reflection process was evidently also seen by students as a punishment."

"In fact, it was seen as a far more significant penalty than was the school-perceived major penalty," both reports read. 

It was concluded that the teacher, Natalie Mann, encouraged the students to focus their reflection as apologies, so neither of them offered a suggestion in their letters on how they could avoid plagiarism in the future.

The panel said the reflection letter is "excessive and non-constructive."

Trixie earlier said the letter was addressed to the "whole school community" and accused the concerned teacher of "publicly humiliating" her son.

But Simon defended the teacher, saying the school never received a complaint about her – not even anonymous ones – in all her years of teaching in the school.

"If there's a problem, we'd know. As a school, we would never accept a teacher who will publicly humiliate. We never publicly humiliate kids, ever. It's just something we don't do," Simon told Rappler in an interview. 

In her statement submitted to the Senate, Natalie said she required the students "to write a letter in which they apologised to Mr Mann, although he would never see the letter." Simon said the apology letter never intended to  hurt anyone, as it is part of the reflection process.

Students were 'supported differently'

But Trixie said her son's letter had red flags that showed "seriously alarming emotional distress" – something that Natalie could've detected had she read the letter immediately. 

The teacher admitted in her statement that she did not read Liam's letter after it was submitted to her.

"When Liam submitted his letter, he was subdued, but not unduly so, and he proceeded to break time at 10:20. I took the letter from him, but did not read it at the time," Natalie said. (READ: DepEd: BSM may face sanctions over Liam Madamba's death)

The other student, however, was "visibly upset," so the teacher spent more time counseling her. She told the student, among other things, that "plagiarism was not something that would define her." 

On February 6 – a day after Liam wrote the apology letter – he jumped from the 6th floor of the Dela Rosa carpark building in Legazpi Village in Makati City. He was rushed to the nearby Makati Medical Center but died several hours later.

"Based on Liam's letter of apology, I as a mother can infer Liam's anguish...Simon Mann personally apologized to me that the letter had that effect on Liam," Trixie said in a text message to Rappler. 

School officials already admitted before senators that after their internal review, they saw a connection "between Liam being dealt with at school and the consequences that occurred."

This was not in the report released by the Council of Trustees, but it was included in the original IRP report, which had a section on the panel's "further advice to the Council of Trustees." One item read:

This panel has no mandate and/or capability for an investigation as suggested above, but it is impossible to conclude this report without including some common impressions:

The Madamba family still has a lot of questions for Natalie, but she already left the country as early as March to see her family in South Africa. 

Although Simon Mann said the teacher was "absolutely adamant she was coming back," she resigned weeks after she went on leave. – Rappler.com

Jee Y. Geronimo

Jee is part of Rappler's Central Desk, handling most of the world, science, and environment stories on the site. She enjoys listening to podcasts and K-pop, watching Asian dramas, and running long distances. She hopes to visit Israel someday to retrace the steps of her Savior.

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