The outspoken mother of an eight-year-old boy with Down Syndrome who was allegedly beaten by a teacher at the Ellerton Primary School Special Education Unit, is getting the backing of the Barbados Down Syndrome Association.
Charmaine Ifill is also receiving support from former communications specialist at the Barbados Water Authority (BWA), Joy-Ann Haigh, who has a daughter with the chromosomal condition.
In a statement issued today, president of the association, Asha Alleyne-Renwick said she was extremely concerned about the incident which she described as “an act of brutality and a gross violation of human rights”.
Ifill said her son was beaten with a stick so badly last Thursday that his back was bruised.
“Under no circumstance is this an acceptable form of punishment for any child. It is our expectation that our children will be treated fairly and with respect while in the care of the state. That such an act could occur in one of our schools brings the safety of Barbadian children with Down Syndrome into question,” Alleyne-Renwick said.
Further noting that statistics show that 50 per cent of babies with Down Syndrome are born with a heart defect, Alleyne-Renwick added: “The child in question reportedly received blows to his back which could have had a disastrous outcome. We reiterate that this brutality will not be tolerated and call on the Ministry of Education, Technological and Vocational Training to address the issue.”
Minister of Education Santia Bradshaw told Barbados TODAY that the teacher has been suspended and the incident is being investigated.
Meantime, Haigh was today close to tears as she embraced an emotional Ifill at her workplace in The City.
Ifill told Haigh the situation has left her confused and frustrated since the young boy is now afraid to go to school. In fact, he had to be collected yesterday and taken to the doctor because he complained of feeling unwell.
The mother said her son has made it clear he does not want to return to the school, and even cried when she was in the process of ironing his uniform yesterday morning.
“From the time he hear school he crying, because he ain’t want to go school,” Ifill said, expressing the hope that the incident would not have a long-term effect on her child.
She wants him transferred to another school – a recommendation supported by Haigh who said children with special needs can be more easily traumatized than others without such conditions.
The former BWA communications specialist who promised Ifill that she would walk with her through the journey, said words could not express how she felt about the situation. She added that she would have had a similar response to Ifill, had it been her daughter.
“It could have been my daughter and I would have to take some action too. So I can’t blame the mother for feeling the way she felt. I was really hurt when I saw the marks. I have my child and yes, I have to discipline my child, but I talk to my daughter. I don’t hit my daughter with Down Syndrome and I would encourage other parents not to do so,” Haigh said.
“I came down here to Charmaine’s workplace to offer some support. What I can say is that I actually reached out to the Minister of Education Santia Bradshaw who, I can tell you, is against corporal punishment and has zero tolerance for it. She has assured me, as a mother, that all would be done in the best interest of the child, that the process obviously has to involve an investigation with the relevant parties – that being the person the allegation has been laid against which, in this case, is the teacher,” she added.
Haigh said she was confident after speaking to Minister Bradshaw that the case would not be swept under the carpet but would be placed on the front burner.
She further expressed the hope that there are individuals in the Royal Barbados Police Force trained to interview people with mental challenges, so that the child would not be “drilled over and over again in an investigation”.
“We are hopeful that there are some other elements in here, possibly witnesses to the allegation, so that we can put this matter to bed,” she said.
Haigh added that she expected if the teacher was found guilty of wrongdoing, she would be punished to the full extent of the law.
She stressed that while children with special needs may be unable to defend themselves, nobody should be abused.
“Teachers . . . have to look to see other ways of reprimanding the child, by speaking to them; certainly not treating any child, in particular persons with special needs, in this way. It is hurtful for the child, and it would cause some psychological damage, and to the parents too. So I am urging everyone to please rally behind Charmaine and her child if this indeed turns out to be a case that the person has to be punished,” Haigh said.
However, she cautioned that the actions of the teacher in question should not cause people to paint all teachers with the same brush.
“This should not be a message that all teachers are like this because, certainly, that is not the case. There are a lot of very good teachers. It is unfortunate that if this individual is guilty, it is an embarrassment to the profession.
“To all teachers, please, if you are in this profession and you are doing this, please do it out of the love for children, and not for any other reason,” Haigh pleaded