In his first public comment on a cutlass attack at The Ellerslie School last week, Minister of Education Ronald Jones today promised to be tough on students who threaten to “run havoc” at school.
At the same time, Jones said he would not have “Paul pay for all” by introducing security measures that would inconvenience entire school populations when the troublemakers were in the minority.
Jones waited six days to speak publicly in any detail about last Wednesday’s incident at the Black Rock based secondary school, which resulted in a 17-year-old student losing a finger, coming close to losing a second, and suffering several chop wounds to his right hand, in what is believed to have been retaliation for a previous attack two weeks earlier.
Today, he chose the launch the school’s sixth form programme to announce plans to introduce new laws to “pluck out” students who are hell bent on causing mayhem.
“One child can disrupt a school, two children even worse. But ten can run havoc in that school. You could have 890 settled and doing well but ten can disrupt that school and become the candle that people see. So we have to put a new cadre of laws, because we have to pluck them out sooner rather than later and place them in other institutions,” said Jones, who delivered the feature address at this morning’s launch.
“We may have to reformat some of the services a bit to help the society. The Barbados Defence Force and the National Youth Service would have to be given the resources so that if you are 13 years old and giving trouble, they would have to do some work with you,” he added.
The minister gave no details of the plan to reshape the legal framework, nor did he speak specifically about the actual incident, which again thrust Ellerslie into the spotlight just over a year-and-a-half after the school gained national prominence after it was reported that a then 13-year-old student had spat on and kicked a teacher in her vagina after the teacher had verbally disciplined her.
The teacher had remained on sick leave for several months after the incident, and her current status is not immediately clear.
That incident also brought to the fore other attacks — both student-on-student and student-on-teacher — at other secondary schools, prompting both the Barbados Secondary Teachers’ Union (BSTU) and the Barbados Union of Teachers (BUT) to call on Jones and the Ministry of Education to intervene to curb the level of violence in schools.
In fact, even before that incident in April last year, BUT President Pedro Shepherd had complained about students taking weapons to school, while he and BSTU President Mary Redman had described the escalation of violence in some schools as rendering those institutions “war zones”.
During his address today, Jones tore into both unions for their reaction to last week’s incident, calling them “irrational” and “silly”.
Redman had responded to the incident by repeating a demand for a high level meeting to discuss violence in schools, while at the same time complaining that it had been more than a year since the ministry had promised talks on the matter but nothing had happened since.
Meanwhile, Shepherd had called on the Ministry of Education, Ministry of Defence and the Attorney General’s Office to take urgent action to deal with the issue.
Jones contended that his ministry had done enough to curb violence in schools and that it was disingenuous to place blame at his feet.
And he argued that more serious incidents had occurred before his tenure and would likely occur again, even with the strictest security measures.
“I do not know how the minds of some people work because a whole set of programmes exist within our schools relative to bullying and displays of violence. There are persons who are bent on accentuating the situation because normally you would find in any environment a few people who would give some trouble and I do not know if we need to take it to the kind of degrees that the unions and others would want to take it.
“There is a blatant lack of historical understanding of the dynamic of schooling because several years ago we had a murder at one of our schools and this was not under my guidance or leadership.
“The point is that people end up in combative situations at any point in time and I cannot be the one who diagnoses and says that is it or that isn’t it. Sometimes persons because of anger management issues are bound to explode. So to walk about and point fingers and blaming persons is irrational. I reject it and I call it another silly moment by some people,” he said, while adding there was no need for him to meet with the unions on the issue because the situation had not reached such a critical level as to require his intervention.
“I do not meet with unions and I want to make that absolutely clear. They have a different agenda where this is concerned and they should raise those points where they are but unions don’t meet with ministers. It would have to be an extreme case where other things have broken down then the minister intervenes to make it stable or right. Unions meet with the PS [permanent secretary] and the chief [education officer] and up until recently I was told that they met with the BUT and they have promised to meet with the BSTU in early December,” he stressed.
Jones told today’s event, which doubled as a renaming of the learning institution to The Ellerslie School, that some people were “blowing the incident out of proportion”, and he strongly rejected calls for the installation of metal detectors in schools to keep out weapons.
“The majority of our children do not travel with sharp edged tools, with weapons of destruction. So Peter got to pay for Paul and Paul pay for all? If you have the metal detectors there the disobedient will stash their weapons outside. You don’t change society by patchwork, so don’t come asking me foolishness,” he said.