Children's Advocate probing reports of abuse at school for the blind

BY KIMONE FRANCIS
Senior staff reporter
francisk@jamaicaobserver.com

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

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CHILDREN'S Advocate Diahann Gordon Harrison has disclosed that her office is now investigating reports of abuse at Salvation Army School for the Blind in St Andrew.


Speaking with the Jamaica Observer Monday, Gordon Harrison said her office had been investigating a matter involving a child at the school when it learnt of other issues reported by this newspaper.
“We have been involved in [investigations] even before the stories. The stories indicate that clearly things are not getting any better, because we were actually involved on behalf of a child, in relation to whom we got a specific complaint, and we've been pursuing that matter.


“It did touch and concern some of the broader issues on which we sought to get answers from certainly the chief education officer and the acting permanent secretary. So we have it (school) on our front burner and we've been dealing with it,” Gordon Harrison said.


The Observer has, since late October, been reporting on several issues affecting the school at Mannings Hill Road, including the closure of the dormitory, allegations of verbal abuse and contention among Salvation Army administrators and Ministry of Education staff.


At least two students have accused Salvation Army officials of ordering them to leave the compound or be taken to the nearest police station, after the school announced that it would close the boarding facility ahead of the midterm break.


Principal Iyeke Erharuyi later complained in a memo to Salvation Army that a young boy, believed to be one of the complainants, has since been bullied by at least one Salvation Army official.


“I am constrained again, but with a heavy and saddened heart, that one of my students is being a subject of another abuse... [The accused] has identified this child as one of the children who allegedly spoke to the Observer newspaper against the coercion and bullying that [officials] allegedly subjected them to before the closure of the dormitory, in order to force them to go home,” the principal wrote.


“Prelude to the compulsory closure of the dormitory, [the officials] allegedly coerced, bullied and threatened those students who were not willing to go home for the midterm break into submission. To go even though this was against the guidance counsellor's recommendation, through his due diligence in identifying the reason why these children were not willing to go home for the short midterm break,” he added.


“As they returned from the break, [the official] is continuing [the] bullying, demanding that the child should return the slippers [given] to him because he dare speak to the newspaper. This is unbecoming behaviour meant to stamp... undue authority. This child has complained that he is being targeted because he allegedly spoke to the media,” the principal wrote further.


That official, who has declined to speak to the Observer, has also been accused of calling the visually impaired children “little monkeys”.


The alleged comment has angered at least one parent who has since written to Salvation Army Territorial Head Devon Haughton.


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