Since the full reopening of schools, especially the reintroduction of students from the lower grades – from first to third – there have been several reports of school fights and other incidents of defiance among students in various schools across the country. .
More recently, video footage of an incident involving a 15-year-old Williamsville High School student who was stabbed by a classmate outside of school grounds came to the public’s attention.
These and other incidents immediately drew the attention and intervention of the Ministry of Education.
One of the measures taken by the ministry was to increase the presence of community policing in 17 schools identified by the ministry as requiring immediate intervention.
Speaking at a press conference at the Ministry’s headquarters in St. Vincent Street, Port of Spain, on June 3, Deputy Commissioner of Police (Criminal Division) Sharon Gomez-Cooper said the presence policing in schools had helped reduce incidents to almost zero.
Ann-Marie Persadsingh, principal of El Dorado West Secondary School, told Sunday Newsday in a telephone interview on Friday that the presence of officers at her school had made a huge difference.
“We are exceptionally lucky to have wonderful officers because they are excellent,” she said. “They are role models and they have built relationships with the students. Children are comfortable approaching them to share incidents and their presence gives them a sense of security.
Persadsingh said that even when their work brings them back to the field, the officers are still a constant source of support for the school and have even extended themselves by giving lectures to students on topics such as sex and drugs.
Persadsingh said, however, while Education Minister Dr Nyan Gadsby-Dolly said the ministry had asked police to increase patrols in all school districts, officers at his schools were recalled.
At a post-cabinet press conference on Thursday, Gadsby-Dolly said a meeting was held with principals from 21 schools to discuss the presence of dedicated staff, including officers from the Support Services Division. to students (SSSD), guidance counselors and police present in these schools. .
She said these schools have a high number of students who scored less than 30% on their Secondary Entrance Examinations (SEA) and need the right kind of resources. She also said some students are fighting for fame so they can be filmed and posted on social media.
“We would like to see them (police) back because they were a stabilizing factor,” Persadsingh said and pleaded with the ministry to bring officers back to the school permanently.
Inspector Kevin Martin, one of the officers stationed at El Dorado West and El Dorado East secondary schools since the department’s partnership with police, told Sunday Newsday there had been a drastic reduction in incidents in both schools since patrolling.
“The officers are in the schools every day. They gave lessons to (students) and we would have made interventions. An officer visited the two schools daily to give lectures.
He said other initiatives such as chess and football are also used to engage students.
Police intervention should be a last resort
Police Information Officer ASP Sheridon Hill told Newsday that as long as the police would like to be involved, police intervention when an incident occurs is a last resort.
He said the role of parents and guardians in a child’s life is critically important.
“There are 7,000 to 10,000 officers in the police department. At any given time, only a percentage of these officers are on duty. School time is actually when most of them are on duty.
“But we have 1.4 million people. We cannot be everywhere at all times.
Hill said all stakeholders in a child’s life must take responsibility for the child’s well-being.
“It takes a village to raise a child. This adage applies here. It starts at home, with parents, siblings, but also churches, schools, teachers, etc.
“If we take our responsibility to watch children more seriously, it will have a significant impact. The police cannot play the role of parents. We have limited time with them (in schools) and youth clubs.
Hill said that for the most part the police intervention program with the ministry was going well and he thinks it should be rolled out to more schools.
Addressing the incident in Williamsville, Hill said that from a law enforcement perspective, matters inside or outside the precinct are handled with the same level of urgency, professionalism and the same evidentiary requirements are necessary in all cases.
He said incidents at schools ranged from assault and battery to one of the most serious offences, injuring with intent to cause grievous bodily harm – the charge against the 15-year-old Williamsville student year. She was also expelled from school.
“People should always remember the role and responsibility of the police. We do not handle civil cases. For these, you must contact a lawyer. We deal with criminal offences. We investigate and if there is evidence of an accusation, we do so.
Regarding the Williamsville incident, Hill said. “You can’t say you can’t charge him. This young girl is scared for life. Nothing says you can’t file a complaint there.
He said once the children start arming themselves and committing serious crimes, they will be charged.
“The school’s procedures cannot in any way affect our criminal investigation. Our investigations are guided by the law, standing orders, police procedures and juvenile judge rules.”
The Rules for Juvenile Judges stipulate how interviews and interrogations with minors are to be conducted. It also explains how the police should interact with children during criminal proceedings.
Hill said police hope children will learn the impact of violent behavior and how it can affect their lives, encouraging them to stop.
Faith-based schools are not free from violence
At a post-Cabinet news conference on Thursday, Gadsby-Dolly said 1,318 students have been suspended from schools across the country since the start of the third term.
She said of these, 30% are women, 70% are men, with 90% of students in public schools and 10% in church schools.
The president of the Association of Faith-Based Boards of Education and the Catholic Education Management Council, Sharon Mangroo, in a brief interview with Sunday Newsday on Friday, said faith-based schools are not immune to violence.
“We live in a violent society, but we deal with it and we believe in the consequences of actions and we deal with it quickly. Our managers don’t joke about it.
She said a principal recently told her that some of the teachers at her school felt she was being too tough on the kids.
“For (a punishment) to be the consequence it’s meant to be, you have to do something with (the kids).”
She said students are offered psychological assessment and counseling if needed before being reintegrated into school.
“We need some assurance that it won’t happen again,” she said, adding that the school always tries to work with the child before making a decision as extreme as expulsion. .
“Yes, you take care of the individual child, but you have to balance that with the other kids in the school.”
Mangroo said: “Psychologists have warned us (that) children have been at home for so long. All the literature said we needed time to focus on getting the kids settled.
She said that compared to public schools which can be very large, faith-based schools are smaller, making them easier to manage. “In larger schools, with no one supervising them, that can be a problem.”
She said she agreed that the presence of the police in the schools will help the situation. “The presence of adults will help calm students down.”
Mangroo said one thing that has worked in mediating indiscipline in Catholic schools is meditation.
“We do Christian meditation, but the meditation as a whole helps the students calm down. It has had a positive effect on the whole school’s time. It’s something to watch. The important thing is to first to get in touch with yourself.