KINGSTON – The recent spike in attacks on high school students across the island has triggered reactions from several school principals who believe that incidents can be avoided or abated if students are properly advised on how to respond when caught in dangerous situations.
Over the past three weeks, there have been more than a dozen reported incidents of robberies and attacks on students, which have resulted in at least one death.
Fourteen-year-old Jamaica College student Nicholas Francis was stabbed to death by a thieving thug as he made his way home from school, allegedly for his cellphone. In another incident, a Camperdown High School student was hospitalised after he was attacked and stabbed by unknown assailants for his cellphone, while a student from Kingston College was treated at hospital after he was attacked and his cellphone taken from him.
“. . . I think the first thing we need to do, which is the most important thing, is that we have to communicate to our students that the responsibility is theirs to be safe,” Calabar High School Principal Albert Corcho told the Jamaica Observer last Friday. “We have to get the students to understand that they have to be their own security officer and that their actions will have to change if they are going to protect themselves. They can’t be going around with the earpiece and having the phones on display. I think if we start there, then things will be a lot better.”
Corcho rejected Education Minister Ruel Reid’s statement that students should defend themselves if approached for their cellphones or other valuables.
“I am not going down that route. I believe that, and I’ve said it to my boys, if you come upon a situation where your life is being threatened and they ask for the phone, hand it over willingly. You can always replace the phone or whatever instrument; do not put up a fight because it will only make things worse. We have to educate our students,” Corcho insisted.
Camperdown High School Principal Valentine Bailey agreed, arguing that it is important for principals and teachers to advise students on how to respond.
“We can get messages to especially our boys that look, a man can call you an idiot and you take it, you don’t have to get involved in anything, but that’s a serious challenge. Things really have changed,” he told the Observer.
Bailey said Camperdown’s policy is that students are not allowed to take their cellphones to school, but the school has had difficulty getting students to adhere.
“We have been preaching that for a number of years and that has been the norm — no cellphone. And there are some very expensive cellphones which are baits. There are a lot of illegal shops around the place, so one thing feeds into another and these children will never listen that if you have to have a phone, don’t profile with it on the road,” he lamented.
Principal at Vauxhall High School in East Kingston, Angela Chaplin, informed the Observer that just Thursday, two of her female students were robbed of their cellphones while making their way from school.
“I had to talk to my children this morning [Friday] about phones and tell them ‘Remember, you can get other phones, you can’t get back your lives,’” Chaplin said.
She added: “This is the 21st century and children will need to have phones, but in terms of having it on the road, they need to hold down on it. I think we as principals should come together and explain to them how it is they should operate in these situations because sometimes they don’t know how they need to behave. We definitely need to have a conversation with our children and explain to them the best way to handle a dangerous situation when it presents itself.”
The principals are proposing that a central bus system be put in place by the State-run Jamaica Urban Transit Company (JUTC) which, they believe, will create a much safer environment for students.
“I’ve said it, and others have said it before —
I think it’s time we start looking at a central bus system. At least that will minimise the attacks on some of our students. So the students would be transported to school and from school. And I don’t think they can realistically serve all the school districts, it’s going to be challenging, but it would be a start,” Bailey said.
Corcho agreed, but noted that the country’s economy would not be able to manage the proposed system.
“It’s a good talk if we could get it, but the reality is that the Government cannot afford it. I believe that there are enough JUTC buses on the road. What we must also do is to encourage them to move away from having a special bus and take the JUTC buses. These buses are secure; they have cameras. So if any infraction should happen, then we can know,” Corcho said.
Ardenne High School Principal Nadine Molloy suggested that the Government explore the idea of a public-private sector partnership to make the system a reality.
“. . . If there could be some public and private sector partnership that allows for private sector companies and international donor agencies to provide buses, even if they were a part of the normal fleet but [operate] during peak hours in the evenings when we know we have the problem, that would be good,” she said.
Molloy believes, however, that several of the attacks on high school students are not cellphone-related but instead, are attacks carried out by other high school students.
“A lot of them are [by other students],” she said.
“. . . You also have the informer culture. Sometimes you have students who don’t want to speak out about what has happened. So sometimes you are not able to fully investigate and have students stand the consequences of their actions.”
Molloy explained to the Observer that the attacks sometime stem from community conflicts which spill over.