Minister of Education Ronald Jones today trashed as “rubbish”, “nonsense” and “foolishness”, claims that his ministry had targeted for persecution, two Rastafarian parents who homeschooled their children, even as he said the situation could be salvaged.
Jones’ own Ministry of Education had taken the parents to court for failing to send their charges to school, and the two were found guilty last Friday of breaching Section 41 Clause (b) of the Education Act, Chapter 41 on the grounds that there was no record of the children — a boy and a girl both under the age of ten — ever attending formal classes.
The ministry’s decision came in for criticism on social media by those who argued the parents were targeted because of their religion.
However, speaking today on the sidelines of the launch of Education Month, Jones said the allegations were simply not true.
“Rubbish. Nonsense. We have had Rastafarian children homeschooled before and there has never been that instance.
So why this? Persons need to look into themselves and their souls and stop talking foolishness,” he said.
During the hearing a school attendance officer from the ministry had testified that neither child could been found on “any school registry in Barbados” as their parents were simply not interested in enrolling them in the public school system or following the home schooling criteria.
The education officer also revealed that the older child had been offered a place in one of the island’s Government schools, but the father had refused on the grounds that there was too much deviance, including bullying, illicit drugs and sexual activity in the education system.
Jones said his ministry was willing to work with any parent desirous of homeschooling his or her child, but the right protocol had to be followed.
“Speak to the ministry. Permissions are granted for parents to homeschool but they have to follow the curriculum. Remember we have a compulsory system of education. We recognize the right of parents to want to homeschool. You could be Christian, Rastafarian, etc; if you go and try to sidetrack the laws then chaos becomes the order of the day and we can’t allow that because every child has the right to be educated.
“If parents want to homeschool their child, come and speak to us and be granted permission in writing. Those parents are also visited routinely to ensure that they are following a curriculum that we can add to the child overall,” he explained.
The parents will know later this week what punishment they will face. They will also have to await the outcome of a High Court matter to see whether their children will be taken from them, after the state-run Child Care Board (CCB) disclosed it had taken steps to make the children wards the court.
Jones today defended the CCB’s right to try to take the children from the parents, saying the child protection agency had a responsibility for the safety, health and protection of the children.
“If they feel that such is now being compromised, they have a right to intercede,” he said.
However, the minister said he was not sure if the parents would face additional charges.
“I don’t know if the parents will be charged. There are a whole lot of steps before anyone is charged. Even now I believe the situation can be rescued. Do everything that needs to be under the laws, including application making sure the environment is conducive; making sure that a curriculum is followed,” Jones stressed.
The parents are expected to return to the High Court on Wednesday, and to the Magistrates Court on October 7th for sentencing.