A feud that began two weeks ago between two fourth form male students of Ellerslie Secondary School escalated into a bloody, butchery affair today, with a 17-year-old student losing a finger, another partially severed, and several chop wounds to his right hand. He was transported to the Queen Elizabeth Hospital for medical attention.
Barbados TODAY understands that during the 11:50 a.m. lunch break a group of students were involved in an altercation when one of the pupils reached into his bag for a cutlass.
When Barbados TODAY arrived at the Black Rock, St Michael school after 1 p.m., a small group of concerned parents had gathered outside, waiting to pick up their charges, while a security officer kept close guard over the sole entrance.
Classes had come to a standstill with students held in their classrooms until their parents or guardians arrived, or until the official 3 p.m. close.
One student, who was leaving the premises with her parents, told Barbados TODAY that she was waiting to purchase her lunch in the school cafeteria when the disturbance began between the assailant and a group of male students.
She said the same group had attacked the assailant two weeks ago, leaving him battered and bruised on the road, and concluded that today’s incident was a continuation of that attack.
“They were cuffing him and he went in [his] bag and took out a collins and first he slap him with the collins and then he was still fighting back and then his hand got cut . . . . They had real blood all through the canteen,” the student recounted.
Her parent, who requested anonymity, said that she rushed to the school after receiving a frantic call from her daughter. Alarmed at the shocking act of violence, the parent expressed concerns about the lack of adequate security, and questioned what measure would be taken in future to ensure the students’ safety.
“How it is that parents got their children at this school, [it is] supposed to be safe and children bringing in machetes and these kinds of weapons?” she asked.
President of the Barbados Secondary Teachers’ Union (BSTU) Mary Redman reacted with consternation to today’s attack, blaming the Ronald Jones-led Ministry of Education for failing to take decisive action against escalating violence in schools.
An angry Redman argued that despite the pleadings of teachers for more than a year, the ministry has refused to hold serious consultation to address the issue.
“I was so upset and distressed when I heard and I don’t know what else to say. We have been waiting now for over a year,” she told Barbados TODAY, while making reference to a pledge by the ministry at a quarterly meeting on May 24, 2016 that it would summon a special meeting to deal with violence in schools.
“We have waited since then and I would have mentioned it more than one occasion because there were several incidents since then. What are we really doing to stop this growing problem that everyone else in the society recognizes as a serious one?
“The Ministry of Education has the overall responsibility for the education system and the implementation of policy and we have now reached the stage where violence in school is at this level. We now must ask how much of this is affected by the ministry’s policies. The answer is clear in the increased frequency and intensity in the acts of violence. The message is clear by the evidence that we see, and we can no longer afford to ignore it,” she added.
An emotional Redman stressed that both teachers and students at Ellerslie were now operating in an atmosphere of fear, adding that she did not know what else it would take to convince the ministry of the gravity of the situation.
The BSTU president also told Barbados TODAY that she had received reports of two teachers at the same school being struck in the head by students.
“Both the teachers and the students were so traumatized today because they are not robots and they are distressed when these things happen to children that they care about. People think that it is only the child that was on the receiving end that is traumatized but from my report the entire school was traumatized. Children who witnessed it were deeply psychologically affected because it happened at the canteen. The other question is now to what extent are teachers expected to put themselves at risk. Are we expected to now get between a student wielding a cutlass to protect another student on the receiving end? The situation cannot be allowed to continue,” she stressed.
The issue of violence in schools exploded to the fore in April last year after a teacher at Ellerslie was allegedly spat on and kicked by a student who she had attempted to verbally discipline.
However, both the BSTU and the Barbados Union of Teachers (BUT) have said it was not an isolated case, citing as examples teachers being subjected to assault and battery by their charges, including a teacher who had been attacked on three occasions and his vehicle vandalized.
BUT President Pedro Shepherd had also spoken of teachers being intimidated by students who took weapons to school, while both union leaders have described the escalation of violence in some schools as rendering those institutions “war zones”.
Following the April 2016 Ellerslie incident Jones had announced the establishment of a broad-based committee to investigate violence in schools.
He said at the time the committee would have been established within a week of the announcement and would look into student-on-student violence and student-on-teacher violence, as well as cases of teacher-on-student violence “if that exists”, and would recommend ways to resolve the issue and enhance security at schools.
Nothing has been heard from Jones since about the committee.