An incident involving principal of the Parkinson Memorial Secondary School and a parent yesterday has propelled the often controversial Jeff Broomes back into the headlines. We will stay away from the detail of the case since it is likely that someone will be before the courts answering charges related to the incident.
However, that does not mean we should not comment on the larger issue of security in our schools. It is clear that across the globe there is a problem with security at institutions of learning — and for various reasons.
Luckily, incidents like the recent mass shooting at a school in the United States is still the exception rather than the rule, but it does not lessen the fact that those who do business at our schools too often face dangers that ought not to exist in such an environment.
In too many instances our students believe they have a need to protect themselves from peers, while our teachers feel threatened by students and parents.
In Barbados, we believe there is at least one guard at each of our primary and secondary schools, but given the nature of our society, they are largely powerless to deal with the number and complexity of the problems that visit these institutions.
Just yesterday Jamaica police displayed the hundreds of knives and home-made guns taken from students in a series of operations, and in most United States schools metal detectors are as heavily used as those at airports.
In Barbados we may not have reached that stage, but it is clear from the comments of the Barbados Union of Teachers, Barbados Secondary Teachers Union and individual principals from time to time, that our situation has deteriorated enough to signal to authorities that it is time for a comprehensive examination of security arrangements in schools.
We readily accept that the security problems in our schools reflect the challenges of the larger society, especially the home, and the application of plaster-like solutions at the school level will not deal with the root causes.
However, there are still some basics that have to be considered. For one, there ought not to be a single school left in Barbados that is not properly and completely fenced. No one should be able to gain entry to a school other than through a designated entrance and they should not make it beyond that point without being challenged by the appropriate security personnel.
Such an approach would require more than one guard at many of our schools as the entry point would always have to be manned. Just as the law was changed to stiffen the penalty for persons found with illegal drugs within a certain distance of a school, the same should apply to any implement that could be classified as a weapon.
Perhaps it is time to remove responsibility for day-to-day school security from the Ministry of Education to an appropriate agency, with all guards being specifically trained and equipped, including with the use of centrally monitored communications systems.
Such an agency would be equipped to undertake mobile patrols — a move that would send a clear message about their seriousness to outsiders who would create problems, as well as guards who might get away with murder since principals are constantly occupied with other matters.
While our principals and teachers ought to be always aware, they are not security experts and should not be expected to act as such.
Our authorities should also declare a zero tolerance to certain types of behaviour in and around our schools and make sure that through proper signage all who enter are fully aware of the consequences of breaches.
For sure, anything that can be construed as intimidation of any teacher, staff member or student by any “visitor” to a school should be met with quick, certain and harsh responses. Students should not suffer as a result of the actions of misguided parents — but each parent ought never to be in doubt about the consequences of stupidity on the school compound.