The country’s largest public sector union has broken ranks with its sister unions on the fate of a 13-year-old student of Ellerslie Secondary School accused of spitting on and kicking a teacher in her genitals last week.
The Barbados Union of Teachers (BUT) and the Barbados Secondary Teachers’ Union (BSTU) have demanded the pupil’s immediate expulsion and the Barbados Workers Union, while not addressing the issue of expulsion directly, said last week it stood in solidarity with the two teachers’ representative bodies.
However, while backing the position of teachers to stamp out violence in schools, the National Union of Public Workers (NUPW) said it disagreed with their call to expel the child right away.
“The NUPW recognizes that there is a code of discipline in relation to how to best deal with students who in any way, have broken any of the school rules and so on. The NUPW also recognizes that there are dynamics that would lead to students acting out. For me as an educator, there are many things that might motivate a child to act in such a violent way. We have removed corporal punishment to some extent – not that I am in support of corporal punishment – I am stating that there are not things put in place to best deal with it [indiscipline].
“The next step would be expulsion. Do I necessarily agree with expulsion? No. I do not,” said First Vice President of the NUPW Joy-Ann Inniss, a special needs teacher.
However, Inniss emphasized that she would back expulsion if everything else failed. The union official admitted that dismissal ought not be taken off the table altogether. However, she insisted it should only be considered if all other options were exhausted.
“As a last resort? Yes we do. As a last resort. After you have gone through the whole process and recognized, ‘you know what? This is at the end of it. That is the only option that we have after going through every single step, yes’. But I believe that we need to put systems in place,” the union executive contended.
Inniss was adamant that her union would not compromise its firm stance against violence at the workplace, including schools. She made reference to one of the union’s own programmes to educate the workforce on workplace violence and how to eradicate it.
She argued that indiscipline at schools must be seriously addressed and called for special training programmes and
the introduction of social workers in schools to help teachers deal with the “deficit” caused by the ban on corporal punishment.
“Let it first be stated that NUPW abhors all levels of workplace violence and stands in solidarity with the teaching fraternity against all levels of violence . . . Therefore adequate training and resources must be put in place to deal with this deficit . . . .We have overlooked the importance and use of social workers at all levels of our school system. This group can help to assist with the changing dynamics [and] lowering value system,” the special needs teacher said.
“‘If you have social workers in place even at the primary level, they will be able to address some of these issues and deal with them by the time they get to the secondary level,” the NUPW official added.
Meanwhile, former Parliamentary Secretary in the Ministry of Education Cynthia Forde cautioned against hasty decisions, saying the child had a right to an education.
Speaking to Barbados TODAY, Forde said the issue ought to be dealt with according to the requirements of the Education Act.
“The Ministry of Education and all the other facets associated with that are to deal with it discretely and independently to make sure justice is prevailed for all that is involved,” she said, explaining that the procedure included a report to the principal from the teacher involved, followed by communication between the head teacher and the ministry and the board of management.
“Once the board meets, the child gets suspended for the hearing to happen,” she said.
Forde called for the matter to be dealt with behind closed doors, arguing it had the potential to become highly emotive, therefore, it should be taken out of the full view of the Barbadian public and investigated professionally.
Stating that “it is not the first time that a matter like that would have occurred, neither would it be the last,” the former teacher pledged her support for the Ministry of Education as long as it did not allow sensitive information to “be on the streets.
“Once you have your team of senior persons in the administration dealing directly and indirectly with schools and the other institutions associated with education, that kind of information has no right in the public’s domain.
“The one at Springer Memorial with the child [who was suspended for refusing to pick up a wrapper] had no right in the public’s domain in the way that it was dealt with. All it is doing is creating a lot of emotions,” she said.