Minister of Education Ronald Jones remained tightlipped today on the status of the 14-year-old Springer Memorial School student who continues to be out of the classroom.
However, Jones hinted that a resolution was near.
“Let the issue simmer down. There has been too much press coverage of the issue. In due course the student will be assigned to a school,” he told Barbados TODAY when asked for an update on the impasse.
Jones met the child’s mother Elecia Weekes and her attorney Steve Straughn at the Ministry of Education two-weeks ago, but there has been no word since.
The two sides failed to settle the row, but Straughn said after the meeting that both sides would work in the child’s best interest.
The student was suspended about ten weeks ago after refusing to pick up a wrapper as instructed by a teacher. At the end of her suspension she was barred from attending classes because of her continued refusal to pick up litter, Weekes said.
The mother has blocked two attempts to transfer the pupil because she was unhappy with the recommended schools.
Meantime, Principal Pauline Benjamin has received the support of fellow educators for her stance on the row.
Referring to it as a “perfect example of good leadership”, lecturer at the University of the West Indies Cave Hill Campus Dr Ian Marshall lauded Benjamin for standing firm throughout the highly publicized issue.
“My central issue is one of leadership. I am pleased that the principal stood her ground and she supported her teachers; and that to my mind speaks to the whole issue of effective principal leadership and doing what you have to do without fear of what others may say,” Dr Marshall pointed out during a panel discussion entitled, Unwrapping the Wrapper: The Bigger Picture of Issues Affecting Education hosted by the Barbados Union of Teachers (BUT) this evening at the BUT’s Welches headquarters.
“For me the bigger issue there was the fact that the principal stood her ground and supported her teachers, because to my mind that is critical in our schools [and] showed effective principal leadership.”
President of the Association of Principals of Public Primary Schools Ivan Clarke adopted a similar position, saying it was important for principals to show authority at their respective schools.
“I don’t think that in a small country like this we can afford to not own the little school that we are at, [because] it’s your school and you own it,” said Clarke, the principal of Hilda Skeene Primary.
“Giving ownership to it ensures that it is very clean, that its surroundings is tidy and I think that just asking someone to maintain that plant is nothing big . . . I think that it was blown out of proportion and I’m glad that the principal stood her ground.”
When asked if he felt the punishment administered had been appropriate, Dr Marshall, a lecturer on educational leadership, argued that the resulting punishment was not of foremost importance.
“The issue is not to my mind the appropriateness of the punishment. The issue is that if you are given an instruction by a person who has charge over you, whether you agree or disagree, your responsibility as a student is to be obedient.
“So even if you felt the punishment was too draconian or whatever the case may be, the fundamental point is that you cannot disrespect authority,” argued Dr Marshall, who also pointed out that it was against the law for a principal to suspend a student for more than ten days.
“Who is the person that kept the child out of school for two months? According to the Education Act the school can only give you ten days and if it is a secondary school the Board of Management will review the case and give you an additional ten days, and after that the parent can go to the Minister and appeal that and that position can be revoked.
“No school has the authority to keep a child out of school for two months. So any withdrawing of the child was on the advice of the parent and she should be charged with negligence because, according to the Act, as long as you are under 16 you should be at school unless you have permission to be absent,” Dr Marshall argued.