Thursday, 17 November 2011 02:30
By Alex Holder
The Ministry of Education will institute a zero tolerance policy against deviant conduct at any school in Antigua & Barbuda, according to Minister of Education Dr Jacqui Quinn-Leandro, speaking in the House of Representatives on Wednesday.
Her announcement came on the heels of an incident involving six male students who were subsequently expelled from the Ottos Comprehensive School.
The matter is still being labeled as “urgent” after having affected the education community and by extension the entire country.
“The message of the Ministry of Education is clear and it is unequivocal," Dr Quinn-Leandro said. "We are not going to tolerate violence of any sort, in any school. We have taken a zero tolerance approach, and henceforth would like it to be known throughout the length and breath of this entire population that students would be held accountable for their actions."
She noted that students who bring deadly weapons to school would be deemed a threat to their teachers and fellow students. This would constitute grounds for immediate expulsion, especially when those weapons are put to use.
Further, the minister pointed out that students who behave violently and get into such fights could also be expelled on the spot.
Dr Jacqui Quinn-Leandro went a step further to mandate that no student above the age of 16 shall, without the written permission of her office, be allowed to continue in any public school or an assisted private secondary school after the end of the school year in which he or she shall have attained that age.
“The Education Act mandates that all students have a right to an education up to the age of 16," she said. "What this is saying is that after age 16, you are there on the discretion of the director of election and the Ministry of Education. Therefore, if you are a student above the age of 16, you have to demonstrate that you have earned the privilege to remain in school, because it is no longer a right."
Therefore, if students above this age are bent on being thug-like and creating incidents within the school system, they will be removed.
“We are not going to tolerate students being held hostage by other students with downright bad behaviours," the minister said.
All of the boys who were expelled were over the age of 16, and the two involved in the chopping incident were both 19.
Other policies being recommended by the minister mandate that all parents who have school-aged children must become active members of the PTA and get involved in the life of the school and education of their child.
Further, she announced that the Ministries of Education and National Security would collaborate on unannounced spot-checks at any school, public or private, at any time, on request of the ministry, and the school’s principal and management.
Also, at the request of the prime minister, the Ministry of Education has collaborated with the Ministry of Social Transformation and has expelled students counseled by trained counselors as part of a series of psycho-social interventions.
Steps will also be taken to reintroduce the national cadet core in all secondary schools to bring about some measure of discipline, civic responsibility, and team-spiritedness.
Special work will also be done with all counselors attached to secondary schools to amplify their ability to deal with the students under their care.
In presenting the specific matter that triggered the new policies before the House of Representatives, the education minister recounted that there was a “major incident” at the school where a group of students, all over the age of 16, with knives, cutlasses, and scissors created “mayhem” where teachers, parents and students scampered for cover as one cutlass wielding student chopped at another, causing injuries to his arms, head, and back. The victim managed to stab his attacker in the head sometime during the ordeal.
“There was blood everywhere,” she explained, and presented picture evidence to support this. On the same day, there were several related fights on the compound where one student was kicked several times about the body and eventually stomped in the face. His teeth were broken.
“The extremely brutal afternoon appeared to be gang related,” the minister said.
She added, “It is reported that the altercation started on Independence Day. Law enforcement officers and personnel from the Emergency Medical Services had to be summoned to the compound. No amount of talking to and physical restraint by principal and teachers would quell the students' anger and determination to do bodily harm and to draw blood. The principal, teachers, and other students were visibly shaken, and understandably so.”
As a result of the incident, there was brief industrial action and police presence on the school grounds. The latter resulted in the expulsion of two other students who refused to have their backpacks searched, and eventually got into a fight with the officers. This brought the total number of those expelled to eight.
The minister said the expulsions were warranted, since the students' actions could have an adverse effect. The minister announced that her zero tolerance policy includes about 10 specific clauses.
She said in the wake of any outrageous misconduct in schools, the requisite penalties, as outlined in the Education Act of 2008, would be employed.
Further, she said she had no apologies for her ministry’s decision to involve the police in schools, since criminal minds and elements must be dealt with by the relevant individuals trained to handle them, and the ministry cannot allow its schools to be divorced from society with such incidents.
“Schools are part of our society, and a very integral part of that," the minister said. "And if there is crime in our schools, who best to deal with crime than the police?”
The minister recommended that the people who criticize should put themselves in the shoes of the students and teachers who were directly affected by the incident.
“There are thugs in our schools. Who best to deal with cutlass touting, knife wielding criminal-minded young men than the police? Crime in our society and crime in our schools must be dealt with," she said. “I have absolutely no apologies for collaborating with the police. For collaborating with the Ministry of National Security in allowing the police to be stationed at the schools in conducting random searches of the bags of students.”
The matter is currently before the court, and the minister said it is her sincere hope that justice will prevail.