Editorial

Teachers have responsibility, despite the risks

Monday, April 29, 2013    

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THE Jamaica Teachers' Association (JTA) says it has advised its members — for their own good — not to become physically involved in breaking up fights at their schools "unless they think they can physically do so".

In the words of Mr Clayton Hall, who heads the JTA: "We ask that teachers seek to prevent or stop these occurrences by giving clear instructions. There have been cases where teachers have tried to break up fights physically and have had the law come at them. So we have asked that teachers, unless they think they can physically do so, not to get involved in any physical altercation."

This newspaper has no argument with the JTA on this issue of physical contact and the possible legal implications. We are on record as suggesting that given today's realities teachers are legally endangering themselves when they beat children.

Further, as Mr Hall pointed out, and as yesterday's Sunday Observer article on Mr Garfield Dennis illustrates, teachers have been known to get seriously hurt after being caught up in physical altercations involving unruly students.

We feel though that teachers and school administrators, and indeed all adults, have a moral, if not a legal responsibility to — in the words of Mr Hall — give "clear instructions" to "prevent or stop" violence and misbehaviour in schools.

Sadly, in the case of the tragedy at Penwood High School which left a 16-year-old allegedly slain by a 15-year-old, we are told that there were no adults presenting themselves to give those "clear instructions".

In other words, during six minutes — which video footage showed is how long the fight between the two Penwood High teenagers lasted — not a single adult turned up to shout "Stop!"

If that's really true, then that, to our mind, is an absolute disgrace.

We believe that adults who were at Penwood High, and would have heard the hubbub and excitement that fateful day without apparently even seeking to find out what was happening, should hang their heads in shame. Those who chose to simply ignore the altercation should seriously consider whether they have any moral right to remain in charge of children.

Further, we are told that in the immediate aftermath of the tragic incident at Penwood High no one called the police. Indeed we are told by the police that they only became aware of the incident on being notified by medics at Kingston Public Hospital who had pronounced the child dead. The police allege that after the tragedy, a school administrator instructed a student who had filmed the incident to send the video to the administrator's phone and then delete the footage from her phone.

Again, if all of this is true, it amounts to negligence, immorality and, at best, very poor leadership on the part of the authorities at Penwood High.

We note Minister of Education Rev Ronnie Thwaites' pledge to empower deans of disciplines — who as we understand it are only assigned to some schools — to be empowered as district constables in order to get around the legal impediments to physical contact. That's fine.

But ultimately principals and teachers are the ones in charge of children during school hours. Even as they operate strictly according to school regulations and the law, school administrators and teachers have a responsibility to do their jobs to the best of their ability. Should the day come when a teacher or administrator feels unable or unwilling to monitor/supervise children properly, they should, in good conscience and for their own well-being, resign.

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